Skip to main content

Full text of "Indian Literature Vol.-36 Number-3"

See other formats





Editorial Board : 

U.R. Anantha Murthy 
Ramakanta Rath 
Indra Nath Choudhuri 

Editor : 

K. iSatnhidanandan 




S.iliitya Aknclomi's Bi-monthly Journal 

No. 155 : May-june, 1993 
V 0 I.XXXVI, No. 3 

Cover Paintings : 


K.V. Haridasan; 

Mohan Sharma 

Editorial Office : 

Sahitya Akademi, Rabindra Bhavan, 

35 , Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi-1 1 0001 . 
Anicles in this journal do not necessarily 
reflect the views or policies of the Sahitya 
Akademi. All material is protected by 
copyright and cannot be used in any man- 
ner without the permission of the respec- 
tive authors and the Sahitya Akademi. 

Send your subscription to Sahitya Akademi, 
'Swati', Mandir Marg, New Delhi 1 100C1 ; 
jeevan Tara Building, 4tb Floor, 23A/44X, 
Diamond Harbour Road, Calcutta 700053; 
1 72, Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalya 
Marg, Dadar, Bombay 400014; 304-305 
Guna Building, Anna Salai, Teynampet, 
Madras 600018; ADA, Rangamandira, 
109, J.C. Road, Bangalore 560002. 

In India inclusive of mailing, single copy, 
fifteen rupees; one year (six issues) eighty 
rupees; three years (eighteen issues) two 
hundred and twenty rupees. Abroad by 
airmail, single copy, seven dollars; one 
year (six issues) thirtyfive dollars; three 
years (eighteen issues) ninety US dollars. 

Edited by K. Satchidanandan and 
published by Indra Nath Choudhuri and 
printed by him at Vimal Offset, 

1/11804 (A-26), Panchsheel Garden, 
Naveen Shahdara, Delhi-n0032. 




Firaq Gorakhpuri/1 1 
Silakanl Mahapatra/21 
Jayanta Mahapatra/29 
Subodh Sarkar/36 


Baba Shaikh Farid/ 42 

Twelve Malayalam Short Stories 

T. Paclmanabhan 

Paltalhuvila Karunakaran 
Akbar's Upanishad/55 

O.V. Vijayan 
/viurugan Nair/64 

M. Mukundan 
Delhi 1901/74 

Punalhil Kunhabdulla 
A Red-Letter Day for Chandrika/82 

Paul Zacharia 

Some Recent Unnatural Death/07 
Sarah Joseph 

Inside Every Woman Writer/94 
C.R. Parameswaran 
On Our Poetry Industry/101 

N.S. Madhavan 
The Fourth World/ ^ 1 1 

N. Prabhakaran 
A Path In The Moonshine/M3 

P. Surendran 
Life in the Riddle/ 1 


The Rock/ ^ 36 
FOCUS/ ^ 43 

P.P. Raveendran 
Of /\4asks and /Memories : 

An Interview with Kamala Das/ 145 

Poems-Kamala Das/ 162 
Marine DnVe-Kamala Das/165 

A.J. Thomas 

/vtalayalam Short Story After Modernism/1 74 
N.P. Mohamed 

Short in Genre, Long in History/ 162 


Gopalakrishna Adiga (1 91 8-92)/Ramachandra Sharma/1 87 


Rajeev Saxena 

Hero Rama and Villain Vasishta/ 193 


Illustrations : Bhaskaran; Aii V.N.: Suresh 

A Socialist Criticism is not primarily 
concerned with the consumer's revolution : its 
task is to take over the means of production 

Terry EagletonfAga/nsf the Crain) 


The Role of the Reader 

//“THE growth of the Readers' Liberation Movement (RLM) 

1 over the past few decades has struck a decisive blow 
for oppressed readers everywhere, brutally proletarianized as 
they have been by the authorial class", this is how Terry 
Eagleton prefaces his famous essay 'Th e Rev olt of the Reader'. 
He goes on to declare that reader isTib more the author's 
nameless 'other' and reading is no longer a 'furtive murmuring 
discourse' confined to a few special meeting places, it has 
taken to the streets and begun to affirm its power with the 
slogan, ' The au thors need-us,.„we. don't need the authors'. 

This 'liberation' of the reader, we know, is the 
end-product of what Catherine Belsey calls a 'Copernican 
revolution' in Western critical theory, a process of the gradual 
decentering of the text until the 'author' can safely be declared 
'dead' as Roland Barthes really did in his much-discussed 
essay. This 'revolution' has passed through several stages. 
Roman Ingarden paternally ascribed to the reader the task of 
filling in the localized indeterminacies of the text; the school 
of Constance and Wolfgang Iser assigned a more creative role 
to the reader who was expected to suspend ideological 
prejudices in order to be reborn with every text; Jonathan 
Culler allowed the reader access to the blueprints of the 
work's 'manufacture'; Barthes saw the text as a product of 
reading, a field for the infinite play of meaning; Derrida 
advocated a subversion of the text's conscious logic by a 
reading along its margins that reveals its unconscious 
intentions hidden under its mastercodes; Raymond Williams 
argued for a dissolution of the author into the elements of the 
text and Foucault trie^ to follow up the fissures left by the 

6/INDIAN literature ; 155 

author's disappearance and unveil the relationship between 
Knowledge and Power. Every reading is a postponement of 
the ultimate meaning of the text since texts are open-ended 
and can be read in a variety of unforeseeable ways and the 
reader's discoveries are inevitably the products of the tools 
used for reading. It is not the author who speaks, but language 
itself which is by nature polysemic as no word is eternally 
bound up with a particular meaning. This gap between the 
word and the meaning is the site of the reader's freedom for 
'writing' the text. 

Where does the reader stand vis-a-vis the text in Indian 
poetics? Sanskrit poetics which is also the theoretical basis for 
much of our native criticism extols the reader as sahrdaya, 
the competent and sensitive admirer of artistic beauty. The 
sahrdaya is as imaginative as the writer himself/herself: only 
the former's imagination is receptive while the latter's is 
active. The basis of Sahrdayatva according to 
Anandavardhana is rasajnata, the knowledge of and sensitivity 
to rasas while Pratibha or creative genius is a unique and 
inexplicable gift of nature (Bhamaha), a form of Rishitva, the 
visionary power of the sage (Bhattatouta), a genetic quality 
perfected through generations (Vamana), Sakti or power 
(Abhinavagupta, Rajasekhara), the ability to create ever new 
objects (Kalidasa) or insightful intelligence that suddenly 
touches the core of reality (Mabimabhatta). Bharata, 
Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta had realised the 
significance of the reading process in the production of 
literature. They had turned their attention from the intrinsic 
qualities of the text to its effects. Anandavardhana conceived 
dhvani as the ultimate effect produced by the totality of the 
text, that lasting reverberation which succeeds the 
comprehension of the mere'meaning'. Reading to him was a 
process that began from the sound of a poem and travelled 
down into the deepest elements of rasa and bhava. The 
formal constituents of poetry-rhyme, image, metaphor, 
simile — ^are all relevant only in so far as they contribute to the 
production of the ultimate aesthetic effect, the rasadhvani. 
Kshemendra's theory of ouchitya or properiety sprang from 

K. satchidanandan/7 

this centrality accorded to suggestiveness in our aesthetics 
while Bhamaha and Kuntaka explored the material 
foundations of dhvani as in the theory of Vakrokti, the subtle 
indirect statement — not certainly circumlocution. The text 
really dissolves with the author once it reaches the point of 
dhvani. Mahimabhatta's theory of anumana also foregrounds 
the reader's ability to imagine and create meanings. He 
denies the existence of a single central rasabhava and an 
unalterable dhvani. The reader first notices the horizontal, 
syntactical, denotational relationships of words and meanings 
and then passes on into the vertical, associational, 
connotational relationships*to produce a succession of moods, 
meanings and experiences, each subtler than the one that 
precedes it. The focus here is on the reader's powers of 
conjecture and free play of imagination; reading becomes 

Both the Western reception theories and the Eastern 
theories of reading often tend to ignore tjie social 
•" determinations of the~p t'0'cess of reading — the historical forces 
behind the interpretative act, the modes of text-production 
and the aesthetic notions that underlie the process of reading 
with of course their ideological underpinnings. Without 
knowing t hem we simply cannot explain the changTn^status 
and me^ings attributidTo T'^drks'. frdmTirrie time. Reading 
Takes place'WilfTnTTTiitory and is as _su£h decided By the 
"needs of vanous layerT of society, the aesthetic concepts 
available in a particular period, th^ discipline within which 
readlhglFdone anldlhe^generaLdeve of human 

l<nowledge at a specific point of history,. The Ramayana we 
read today is certainly not the one read or heard by the 
contemporaries of Valmiki as our reading is illuminated by the 
centuries of human experience, of pain, struggle, war and 
change and of intellectual enquiry that lie in between. If we 
can deconstruct the Ramayana today from the radical points 
of view of the hunted Sambooka or the abandoned Sita, if we 
can re-write the Mahabharata from the perspectives of a 
cheated Ekalavya or an insulted Draupadi or look at both 
,from the angle of a pacifist who refuses to glorify 

8/iNDIAN literature : 15S 

dehumanising violence even if upheld in the name of some 
dharma, it is because we are living in an age of democratic 
aspirations, constantly imperilled though by totalitarian 
tendencies of every hue. Literary criticism, like literature, can 
hardly exist meaningfully in'a'~^cuum insu[ated^fromjculture-_ 
history. The liberated reader is also the creator of new 
values, of a new world fit for human beings. 



Firaq Gorakhpuri 


0 merry folks, I am distributing agony and affliction 

1 am distributing sorrows such as would make even 
ecstasies sacrifice themselves. 

I am distributing a sum precious as fire 
I am distributing a pen with its point in magic. 

I am happy with death and am alive as Jamshed 
I am distributing a poison which confounds nectar. 

12/iNDIAN literature ; 155 

Every drunken heart is the abode of the musk deer, 

I am distributing the illusion of eyes full of magic. 

Mysterious ladders are falling on the head of the people 
I am distributing the curls of cascading hair. 

My ideas have pierced the heart of heaven 
I am distributing poems or the smoke that arises from the 


From the screen of this voice a dawn is breaking 
I am distributing the anguish of the processions on doomsday. 

It will be something if poetry’s touchstone begins to glow 
By this wealth of ideas which 1 am distributing gingerly. 

Is it a rendition of songs or a distribution of wealth 
I am distributing to Man, the predicament of man. 

By soaking my autumnal breath in fire 
I am distributing the ancient treasure of the garden to fallow 


In each wistful eye there is a glimpse of dew 
I am distributing the grief that is hidden in eyes. 

This non-existent love is the culture of the people 
I am distributing the message of death to life. 

Are these poems or gems of the loftiness of character 
I am distributing those ancient currencies of songs. 

The intentions of the world are taking a new turn, 

I am distributing new articles of faith in the world. 

I swear by the monarchy of the people 
I am distributing the Sultanate of Caesar and Jamshed. 


These gifts of heresy may startle creed 
I am distributing idols about to speak. 

The world takes my words afresh in such a way 
As if I am distributing an invaluable treasure. 

The gripping rhythm of my poetry is a camouflage 
Dear friend I am distributing your frightening pertness. 

The forehead of the future of mankind is illuminated 
I am distributing such flames in monasteries and sanctuaries. 

Come, O people of Arabia, scrutinise these poems 
It is not for nothing that I am distributing this ancient, 

barbarian legacy. 

This rudeness of speech warrants immortality 
I am distributing cruelties which feel like kindnesses. 


We shall construct a brave new world 
I am distributing that power and courage to the feeble. 

I will overhaul the face of every thing 
1 am distributing another life to this world. 

I am blessing the world with a new era 
Or bequeathing a new destiny to the nation. 

14/INDIAN literature : 155 

Which will alter the fate of the people tomorrow, 

I am distributing that grave thought today. 

0 literary people, come and look after this estate 

1 am distributing the monarchy of an iron pen. 

It is not revealed to me, Firaq 

What effects of joy and sorrow I am distributing with 

my voice. 

The undulations of the soft atmosphere have but wounded 

my heart. 

The cool winds have but revived your memories. 

The evening was enveloped in mist, beauty too looked 

forlorn and sad. 

Several stories tried then to knock at my heart. 

I was ruined by your half-oben eyes. 

Both life and death refused to see eye to eye with me. 

Those beautifully seductive eyes who ever did distrust. 

But today your enticing gestures entered my heart. 

Intimations of the purity and innocence of beauty came. 

Only when those eyes took love for a ride. 


My cry of anguish moved even the stars to tears 
Their eyes too but rehearsed your name. 

Oh! the travails of this world, the blows of this grief, 

These too but shook the shoulders of my sleeping fate. 

Who else could have nursed the woebegone. 

Yes, your glamour drove them to tears. 

Forgotten stories came to mind in such a way, 

That kindled grievous memories in forgetful hearts. 

You did not come and the night lay in wait. 

Even the assembly of stars had to keep their shining eyes 


The winds arrived in a frenzy again, the atmosphere became 


The clouds of your memory encircled the hearts again. 

The joy-giving musical instrument of life came into full 

play today. 

Whose eyes then tried to narrate the woes of love. 

Again the same sadnesses, again the same lonely world. 

The assembly of revellers however tried to make their 

presence felt. 

Who could comfort the grief-stricken in love. 

Rainy nights too, Firaq, set the world aflame. 

The earth, the sky, and lifestyles have changed. 

Culture’s ancient values have changed, man has changed. 

God and the devil have changed, the character of duality 

has changed 

The definitions of good and evil have changed, styles of 

nonconformity have changed. 

16/INDIAN literature ; 155 

In trying to change the world, I am undergoing a 

change myself, 

If the world has not changed yet, I shall change it right away. 

New destinations must have new pathfinders. 

The ways of the old prophets have changed, styles of 

leadership have changed. 

Has it ever occurred to you, you folks of a bygone order. 

What your predicament will be, if this world ever changed. 

Here, the night lies heavier upon the haves. 

There, the moods of popular awakening have changed. 

We have a new manifesto, the priests and chiefs are 

centuries old. 

Neither decrees upon heresy have changed, nor have the 


If anyone can tell, ‘tis your innate wantonness. 

Whether it’s a look of kindness or whether ways of 

antipathy have changed. 


Thanks to the munificence of man, the earth yields gold, 

This speck of dust only has changed the course of the sun, 

the moon and Jupiter. 

The stars are awake, the night gone to sleep with its hair 

flung apart. 

Walking in stealthily, someone has changed the dream of life. 

Firaq, in tune with Meer and Ghalib, the new melodies now, 
Behold! the assembly of life is changing, poetn^’s colours 

have changed. 

I have premonitions of those footfalls from before 
Life! I can recognize you from afar. 

My eyes are the life and light of those gypsy forms, 

Who take your breath and faith away even as you 

embrace them. 

Intoxicating eyes, there’s no questioning what you say, 

Even so, for safety’s sake, I sift the utterances you make. 

When. I feel disconsolate in lonely nights, 

In such times, I cannot but resort to the blanket of 

your memories. 

One’s resolution alone is not sufficient in love. 

How to accomplish what, one is sure, ought to be done. 

The sole reason of your popularity is your inscrutability, 

For whoever believes in what he knows. 

Call it what you will, heresy or loftiness of vision, 

By forsaking the God of both the worlds, I embrace my 

image of man. 

What you cal] feature is a mirror of character 
By looking at the face of the written word, 


I can well guess what the content says. 

I will not let you lose a thing in the commerce of love, 

I credit to myself all the losses we incur. 

Every time I look at you I exact a fresh promise from you 
Just as I receive a new message each time you look at me. 

Once my friend, now my signal for eternal rest, 

I am obliged, oh death, to you once again. 

The world is starved of the tales from your tongue, 

No wonder it now celebrates your collected works. 

Firaq I have often encountered this gypsy love in 

varying guise. 

Sometimes I recognize Her, sometimes we come face to face. 


However excellent you may be in learning and in art, 
Should you lack the instinct of love, 


You cannot understand the secret of a grain of sand, 

Nor probe the depth of a drop of water. 

After all, I have spent all my days, 

Whether in attempts to forget or remember you. 

Firaq you yourself are the wayfarer and your destination, 
Where are you going having sustained the injury of love. 

Serve others from the goblet Saqi, 

For me Just a drop drawn from the eyes will suffice. 

Firaq had entered the tavern merrily 
He turned sober after he had his drink. 

Agreed that life is pitifully brief, 

But even four days, dear friends, are good enough. 

The holy man has found his god. 

But people need people still. 

What shall I make of my heart in the condition of love. 

When neither ecstasy nor agony are of any gain. 

Your memory, dear friend, in this rainy night, 

Is like a sharp-edged knife that deeply descends. 

Grief-stricken first by your going away, and then by meeting her. 
Whose kindnesses have further saddened my heart. 

The weeping lot hankering after your love. 

Have been silenced by the cares of the world. 

The evenings are still starved of someone Firaq, 

Even though there is nothing I lack in life. 

Love is innocent, but I have betrayed you, my love. 

Through this very medium of love. 

20/INDIAN literature : 155 

Today someone else lay in my lap 

It took me sometime however to forget you. 

You, Firaq have awakened the sleeping seeds of life, 

These magical utterances of yours will continue to haunt 

the hearts of men. 

It’s ages since I heard from my heart 
Perhaps something has taken place. 

This sorrowful, snuffed out life is no life for Firaq 

But today the fields of poetry are flowering because of his 

breath alone. 

The memories of departed friends 

Are gleaming like lamps at night in villages far from sight. 

On Firaq’s death some people were saying yesterday 
He stayed awake all his life, the poor fellow has gone to sleep . 

Translated from Urdu 
fay Noorul Hasan 

Sitakant Mahapatra 


Autumn is busy cleaning 
the bloodied waters of the river 
on the flanks of the battlefield. 

The war is over; 

the recitation of the priest’s mantras has ended 
the demon-king Mahishasura is already slain. 

The mortal remains of the Devi, 

the sparse frame of mud and straw 

now dry in the sharp sun 

at the water’s edge on the river bank; 

the humming of the peace-treaty 

is in the air, in the sky; 

eager and happy 

the white flags of Kasa 

sway in the tremulous breeze. 

In autumn 

it is easy to lose the track. 

Even though clouds do not darken 
and the sun is not a conflagration 
it is difficult to discern the road 
in the strange absence of words 
so new to the battlefield 
and the quivering twilight in the soul. 

22/indian literature > iss 

Like a lone traveller 

crossing a river in the evening 

on way to a far-off unseen village, 

one has to enquire of the road from 

the thin blue veil of fog; 

the birds returning home 

in unattached formations; 

the myriad tiny ripples on the river; 

the unintelligible anguish inside the heart; 

and the non-existent shadow 

of the goddess of illusion. 



As if there is no one, anywhere; 
and in whichever direction you look 
only emptiness. 

Except time, the fearsome loner; 
the narrow lanes, tre^s, creepers 
the few emaciated men 
only its wide-open eyes 
with teardrops glistening in them. 

Time floats everywhere 
as miniscule particles of dust; 
helpless, it falls as yellow leaves; 
it swings in the invisible swings of the wind 
as errant children 

from the overhanging banyan tree’s roots; 
as cursed Ahalya 

it weeps in silent, weather-beaten rocks; 
it sings softly 

in the river’s indolent current. 


Time flows in Chitrotpola’s quiet stream 
eager, zestful 

startled by the passionate call of the sea 
rippling white in its pure passion. 

Time ripens slowly in the golden sun 
milk filling up in the maturing grain 
of paddy stalks streching 
endless to the horizon. 

Time is the grain; 

it is the body made of earth 

that smoulders and bums 

on the funeral pyre on the river-bed 

time is the eternal inner witness 

that straddles this emptiness. 

As if it is not a village 

but only a small speck 

in the infinite strech of time 

in whose dark womb 

the past, the present and the future 

ever get lost 

in a game of hide and seek 
that will never end. 



On how many bleeding twilights 
sitting alone, I have spoken of you 
to the lean champak tree 
the smiling petulant jasmine 
the lone bird cruising noiselessly 
and the multi-coloured butterfly 

24/iNDIAN literature :'155 

sitting pretty like a quiet good boy! 

And 1 have told them; 

look, you are no longer 

just a tree, a flower, a bird or a butterfly; 

for sitting here alone, like me, 

she has kept looking at you 

touched you, put you in her raven-black hair 

loved you. 

Remember, my dearest, 

we are bigger than 

our yesterdays and todays 

our past, our rebirths; 

and yet bigger and more powerful 

is loneliness, the inexorable author 

that makes of everything 

a memory. 

The destiny that awaits us 

at the turn of the road, 

surely it cannot be death! 

for our blood’s passion ever sprouts 

in ever new leaf and flower, 

the colour of our dream 

is ever changing 

in the open eyes of the sky. 

The end, therefore, is only this 

transparent vacancy 

the empty moments that threaten, 

the nowhere long noon 

and the crow calling out to no-one 

and a traveller alone on a road 

stretching away to infinity. 

Often I have felt 
We are drowning 


under a deluge of words 

words that push, pull, choke, darken 

and before getting lost 

1 have only tried to say this much: 

love is what remains 

when all the words have died; 

poetry is what remains 

When all the words have failed. 

In darkness your voice comes back to me: 
now it is the grandma’s voice 
cool and deep like the dark water 
of an ancient unused well 
admonishing not to fidget and be still 
now it is the fickle traunt voice 
of a hill-stream, impatient 
as it rushes down the haughty slope. 

Do we not know, dearest, 

that love, however abiding, however deep 

can never escape loneliness? 

loneliness that is our destiny 

our final goal 

The sole witness, our only testimony 
the ultimate language. 

Of Time’s thousand names 

the final one is loneliness; 

that is where each of us 

has to arrive, shake hands and befriend: 

the little girl who sits morose 

after breaking her toy; 

the young boy who finds no-one 

to join with him in a game of cricket; 

the adolescent boy and girl 

in love for the first time; 

the sick old man in the evening 

when everyone in the family 

26/iNDIAN literature : 155 

have gone their own ways; 
the middle-aged lady 
knitting through an empty afternoon 
that never seems to end. 

Yes, each of us 

has to arrive there : 

even the Almighty Himself 

awaiting Jara’s arrow 

in the lonesome dense forest. 

‘Samat^ara Shesh Nama’ 


They distribute droplets of nectar 
to famished human beings 
in the magical overture 
of their orchestra 

and then, throughout the live-long day, 
remain silent, as if 
they never knew 
what was singing! 

Birds in the morning 
with their songs 

and the soft rustle of their wings 
they build tiny nests of dream 
for hapless human beings 
faced with the cruel destiny 
of nightmares. 

In the gathering dusk 
they can no longer be sighted 
but the crippled words of my poem 
become a prayer 


seeking to recreate their songs. 

Its voice cannot go far. 

For it is only the smoke from the hearth-fire 

on a rainy evening 

that crawls to the top 

of the wet thatched roof 

and wistfully looks at the 

cloud-encircled sky, 

like an abandoned gopi 

looking for Krishna 

on the Yamuna bank. 

‘Sakalara Chadhei’ 


They too walked here 
seeking pinyon nuts, acorns 
a cactus fruit and the occasional gold; 
crafting paintings on stubborn rocks 
leaving behind pottery ollas 
and time-scarred legends. 

The desert waits patiently; 

its fragile infinity recorded 

in the frantic sweep of the lizard’s tongue 

the slow unfolding of the bud in April 

and the harsh layers of the ancient rocks 

caressed by the wind. 

Worlds away a jet tears through 

the blue slate of the sky 

only a tiny line of chalk, 

as the dancing deaf cholla cactus 

sticks to your dress 

begging a small free ride. 

28/INDIAN literature : 155 

The rocks are ocean waves 
humping their backs. 

Under the night stars 

the flimsy moisture from the sky 

plays the symphony of creation 

reminding that life is 

what happens briefly 

at the edge of the fading light. 

‘California Marubhumire Dinutiye' 

Translated from Oriya 
by the Poet 

Jayanta Mahapatra 


Another day of waiting out, wondering 
about our poets and what they are 
going to say about us. In pain perhaps 
they stand inside, but cannot 
yet slam the door of their voice. 

Still we do not think that God is cruel. 

In the street outside, in naked poor twilight, 

and a little tired, the minister 

who finally had to resign; 

in the halflight, his pride sitting 

quietly in his chair, the bodies of five-year plans 

strewn around, their mouths open to the sky. 

The elections over, villages filling with shadows. 

My father took four long years to die, 

lying on the edge of his pus-filled bed sores. 

My mother looked at him and took her pills 
and pretended illness: it was only 
the justification of her own life. 

Death is never that simple. 

Both knew that they were lying; 
they did not turn their eyes away. 

Maybe we all realize this, my friend: 
that the life you allow me is your life. 

Tonight, the politician will turn 
on the country with his power. 

His face will be well under control. 

And tomorrow, sixty thousand children 

30/INDIAN literature : 155 

will go hungry again. 

Poets will sip their tea in stupid-looking cafes, 
or dangle in unknown fields 
like embarrassed scarecrows. 

My neighbour’s little daughter says 

she can’t understand why 

the wind keeps crying in the telephone wires; 

and there, how it makes the stars tremble too! 

One doesn’t know what to answer. 

Would the problem disappear 

if one puts oneself beyond the judgment of men? 

Over the fields beyond, the darkness seems alive. 


Time, our strongest possession, bleeds. 

It tastes salt and sickly on the tongue. 

Our poems look to the right and to the left, 
then turn to torment in meek expectation. 

And always the waiting; a hundred years hence 

the poems will still be luxuries, 

hiding their impotent hatred 

for the world’s unresurrectable life. 

Here I am tempted by freedom, affection, devotion, 
the longing for nearness, the smell 
of Anita’s armpits, the round sensual contours 
of women’s bodies on the medieval temple 
of Rajarani. Outside, by the unmoving wall, 
a drongo begin to sing, sharply, insistently. 

Why is it so hard to realize one day 
that you are meaningless? That one 
is not even living for one’s own sake? 

I wish someone could tell my son 
that when I died, I died bravely. 

But no, there is no real reason 
for that either. 

There is always a door open somewhere. 

The trees never move, 

yet seasons reason through their branches. 

The worn-out face of India 

has the weak eyes of solitary poets 

who die alone, 

silenced by the shapelessness of life alive. 


This was life, I thought 

This was what dreams visit me for 

and my hands are clenched into fists to beat back the air 

This was life, I thought 

This is all of the world that has been left; 

32/iNDIAN literature : 155 

The man who wears the sky lying nailed to the ground 
The child who makes his way upon his knees 
to the dawn which isn’t there any more 
The woman who tears off the skin of her womb 
and discovers she is the prey of the thing inside 
This was life, I thought 

The words of a prayer flying wildly at the world’s doors 
from a girl’s lips as she bleeds below some hideous strength 
This time that can never win 

Mount Sinai with its song of peace stuck in its throat 

The throats of mosque and temple 

sounding their thin notes against the lost air of India 

This was life, I thought 

Truth like the icon of the Virgin Mary 

standing there gilded and untouched in the candlelight 


The woman who used the disease as a pretext 

for becoming a whore 

The circle that does not realize it had 

neither beginning nor end 

And a government shouting at the echo 

of its own shouts 

This was life, I thought 

My house, a fixed address, a printed calling card 
My eyes, now gleized, that had lost 
all expression in them 

The flowers in a world so poor they can only 
watch the people die 

The poems of mine, the dreariness of their knowledge 
of one another 

This search for the stolen lamb of Urvashi 
doomed to failure 

And this temple which I cannot enter without being seen 

And because I can see so little falseness in me 

This was life, I thought 

When even on the last day of my life 

I try to protect the image of the man 

the world has parodied so long 

from the dreams of our time 


After long summer months, 

the June rain, trying hard 

to give darkness and light an organic unity. 

The odour of a raped woman through the wetness, 

sacked and consigned to the poison in her blood. 

And the irrelevance 

of people walking past in silence, 

the crows laconic, 

the rotting mangoes black with flies, 

the newspapers carving the Establishment s lies. 

34/INDIAN literature : 155 

What things are these, 

that have the strength to punish one? 

Or to pay homage to a life? 

The air is damp and heavy with the perfume of henna. 

There are so many things 

that die as they are, without suffering. 

In my country of unenforced laws, 

I write my futile poem, eat the fish 

1 buy from the local market, listen intelligently 

to discussions on parliament elections, 

and look at the lost bit of land in my old, soiled atlas. 

At times I could say I was fighting for justice. 

Sometimes, these days, 

when the light plays on the window-panes, 

I think of the big flocks of starlings I saw in Europe, 
wheeling and turning as if there was one brain 
among them, 

and see that vague benevolence of mine 

that means little more than an unwillingness 

to say those words that the tragedy of chaos demands. 



Early morning skies are full with bird cries 

and the emptinesses of nights after last evening s prayers. 

Here no one gives a glance at the wild hyacinths 

choking the ponds, no one notices the madman 

of the village who never searches for a way to go somewhere. 

No one takes the madman’s look into his hands 

to comfort him, no one believes he had once 

taken his master’s degree in psychology 

and fallen madly in love with his pretty college classmate 

before she decided to get married 

to a careerist in the Indian Civil Services. 

Ceremonies have waited long but not explained much ever. 

In their deepest convictions, they have merely evoked 
a feeling of dumb, dead winds blowing nowhere, 
while the darknesses of want caught fire 
and burnt themselves out. 

They are no older today than what they were years ago. 

No one has to shed his whole life in order to live. 

Pain too is not worth talking about by anyone. 

Never was this headless snake more than one s own. 

Only the unbroken scream of the chronic derelict of society 
settles down to another day’s apparent austerity. 

Subodh Sarkar 


She is a story in the eternally green land. 

Like a boat that springs up 
in the evening water 

in the neighbourhood, her name comes up as Jaabaa. 

Is Jaabaa like the younger sister? 

Is Jaabaa like the elder sister? 
or is she like the widowed aunt? 

Having come up 

from the evening water she calls out 
“Kaloo, get me a cup-O’-tea” 

She is a story in the eternally green land 
“Shit” she says “Is this tea or horse’s piss?” 

From the way she speaks it 
you can make out 

that on her stove the dish of Jhinge-posthe is scorched. 

But, what does she think she is? 

She was a mare one day, had a tail, 

and the more she lashed it, 

so much was she beautiful; 

but nobody called her into garbha griha and 

nobody called her into the wombs of their homes. 


One is a burning stove and her opposite is a whore; 
but just now 

kicking the river she is returning to the city, on the water route. 


Everyone’s story 

The dancer knows 

But she does not divulge. 

The Story of abduction of a woman 
was settled in her room; 
the story of rape was finalised, 
and the film director’s murder 
was decided there. 

The dancer knows about everyone. 

In today’s total darkness, 
the dancer 

walks between a father and his son; 
Between a mother and her daughter 
the dancer walks; 

Between a snake and a peacock 
the dancer walks. 

Everyone’s story, the dancer knows. 

She knows where Shudraka went. 
She possesses his manuscripts; 

And the soil of Hastinapura 
is in the ring she wears. 

In today’s total darkness 
as she dances 
between father and son, 

38/INDIAN literature : 155 

between student and teacher 
between mother and daughter 
as she dances, 
she kicks the earth 
and disappears into a forest. 

After one hundred years 
we will hear about her : 

The same one 
with gorgeous breasts 
has come back, 
in the form of 

Goddess Saraswathi, the Goddess of Knowledge. 


There is a Buddhist story about a key 
which could open hell 
and which could open heaven 
and the key was with a drunkard 
He got frightened while opening hell 
and he ran away. 

Today that key is with a prostitute, 

Who has two rooms. 

In one room a customer who didn’t pay her 
is locked and in the other, there is a robber 
who is ready to pay her, but she is not 
ready to sleep with him. 
which one will she open? 

That same key has come into the hands of a Scientist 
who has two rooms. 

One room has hibiscus plant & the other room also has hibiscus. 
Only the scientist knows which hibiscus is dangerous 
and which one feels the separation from rain. 

SUBODH sarkar/39 

This time that key has come into my hands 
and I have two rooms. 

There is a friend in one room and there is another friend in the 
other room. 

But one of them is not a friend and how do I know that? 

If I set one free, he will make my life hell, 

O Buddhism, which room shall I open just now? 


Even to this day I have not known who she is. 

I have heard that she resembles a man. 

In one or two places there are differences, 

but as soon as they fall asleep women understand 

that ‘Mandara’ flowers will blossom from their bodies. 

He has also a body. Getting up at midnight 
he stole ‘Mandara’ flowers and came to the sea 
and said, “Don’t curse me, you sea, 

I had the first union with this flower.” 

That whole night he stood there and 
the Sea water did not speak to him. 

Just before dawn from the breathing waters, 
warding of the foam he came out 
as an adult lusty fellow. 

He came to understand that he 

had taken birth from a ‘Mandara’ flower. 

Lustful Mandara having bathed in spring 
he came to the city oneday. 

In the city he became handsome overnight, 
and got lost in Metro Cinema house, 
and entered the 4th Floor climbing a pipe. 

A mother and her daughter were sleeping in that room. 

40/INDIAN literature : 155 

Waking both of them at the same time 
he made them naked and 
searched, Where are the ‘Mandara’ flowers? 
Where does the Mandara flower blossom? 

Nineteen nights he spent in the city. 

He could not sleep a single night. 

Sitting on a bench in the tea shop 
he watched the dawn, the city in the dawn. 
Mandara flowers never blossom in the city. 


About women there are several jokes 

in the market place, and most of them are harsh. 

I know two or three of those jokes : 

One whom you can get easily is called a “door mat”. 
Those women who come to live with you for a month 
are called “Chaayer Khuri” 

That means in English “Use and Throw”. 

Those women whose days are over, 
for whom youth has said good bye, 
about them a professor friend had said; 

“Shake well before use” 

Such belittling language makes me sick and I think 
all this is because of the influence of that brahmin 
who is called MANU. 

Women also have jokes about men, but they are not so strong. 
Like “nagging worm” that is, “Nacchar Baandha”, 
and the one who sticks to a woman is 
named “Hindustan, Pakistan” which means 

In these jokes there is a tendency to placate men. 


Hadn’t our grandmother toid us : 

“What if the golden ring loses its shape?” 

I don’t like low humour about women, 

I grew up with three elder sisters. 

So a woman does not mean to me 
just 34-32-34. 

May be she is waiting for me sitting in a boat in some far-off place. 
Where that boat is, I do not know, 
but I have to reach there before sunset. 

Do you think 1 will reach there before 1 die 
and stand before her? 


The fisherman does not read poetry 
The honeyseller does not read poetry. 

The sickly youth, brother, don’t read poetry 
Mr. Jyoti Basu does not read poetry. 

The publisher of poems does not read poetry 
The college teacher, even he does not read poetry. 

Then which demon will read all the poems? 

And which Doaman will buy all the poetry books? 

Translated by 
Sumatheendra Nadig 

Tfie Second Tradition 

Baba Shaikh Farid : 
Nine Poems 


honey or 

sugar or 

candy or 

the brown stuff 

or buffalo milk 

are sweet things, but 


is sweeter 

than my God. 

• • • 

My bread 
is wood 

hunger my sauce. 


those who eat it 

with butter 


will be their sorrow. 

• • • 


O Farid, 
find the lake 
where the real 

why look 



'n a dirty pond— 

W" hands Will sinfc 



on fire 

a clay oven, 


1 II Walk 

on my head 

c'^y feet falter— 


If only 

'could meet my 

• . 


oeat you up, 
don t answer 

kiss their feet 
SO home. 


move on 
after making 
ffte lake 


only the lotus 

44/INDIAN literature : 155 


do you think 
this is good, 
you prayerless dog? 

You never go 
to the mosque 
five times. 

« e • 


look at the cotton 
and the sesame, 
all stalks now, 
sugar-cane, flat 
paper, gone 
and see, 

a clay pot that held 
burning coals — 

what do you suppose happens 
to evil-doers? 

• • • 


don’t criticize 
the dust 
under the feet 
of the living, 
it endures 
over the dead 

cannot be matched. 

Translated from Punjabi 
by Adifya Behl 

T. Padmanabhan 
PattathuvUa Karunakaran 

O. V. Vijayan 

M. Mukundan 
Punathil KunhabduUa 
Paul Zacharia 
Sarah Joseph 

C.B. Parameswaran 

N. S. Madhavan 
N. Prahhakaran 

P. Surendran 


Twelve Malayalam Short Stories 


T hey had met after an interval of six months. He thought 
Gowri looked run down. Besides, it was the first time he 
was seeing her wearing glasses. He gently held her close and 
asked in a tender voice ; 

"What happened?" 

At first she didn't say anything. As he insisted, she said : 
"These. days I feel quite exhausted. When I sit down to read 
something I get a headache. And when I try to think too. My 
doctor told me there is nothing wrong, only I should wear specs. 
So for a week now ..." 

Only the two of them in the portico. It was still quite dark, 
though the dawn was approaching; and there was a thin layer 
of mist too. 

At the hotel everyone was deep in indolent slumber. 

They stood close to each other like a couple of bodiless 
souls. He wanted to tell her something. But he couldn't, for he 
had yielded completely to a sense of guilt. 

"I don't know why," said Gowri, "but these days I'm becom- 
ing more and more conscious of time, of age ... sometimes I 
wake up at night, startled ..." 

Suddenly something snapped inside him. And his whole 
body trembled. But he didn't want her to notice it. He said, 
pressing her hand : 

"No, no ... >ye'd never grow old." 

She tried to smile. And was about to say something. But, 
on second thoughts, kept quiet. 

48/INDIAN literature : 155 

It was true that they were no longer young. But they were 
not middle-aged either. Somewhere in between. Though he was 
slightly older, he never appeared so. 

They never used to speak of their age. So, on hearing it for 
the first time ... 

Then Gowri said : 

"We're wasting out time saying this and that. Come, let's 
go quickly. When we reach there today, perhaps ..." 

He said quickly ; 

"No, no. The sun won't rise before my girl reaches there. 
I'm quite sure." 

They walked along the road that ran parallel to the sea. They 
had walked along that road many a time. All before day break. 
And waiting for the sun to emerge from the sea and rise above 
the rocks jutting out into the water ... 

He had never understood why Gowri was so fond of Gopal- 
pur. Come to thmk of it, hadn't they seen lovelier places? And 
spent a few days everywhere? Mahabaleshwar, Pachmari, Dar- 
jeeling, Kanyakumari ... Yet Gowri always preferred Gopalpur. 
Either just before the tourists arrived, or immediately after the 
season. Walking out the days through the beaches and the villages 
of Gopalpur, sitting on the rock every morning ... 

In the quiet of the hotel, unaware of the passage of time, 
untroubled ... 

A few fishermen carrying oars and fishing nets crossed their 
path and walked away. But for them the road was still deserted. 
Nothing could be seen clearly in the mist. The street lamps were 
only thin flakes of light. 

A few butterflies were seen dancing round the lamp posts. 

The two of them kept on walking in silence. Yet he was 

Six months ago Gowri had written : This time a week-long 
management seminar at Kathmandu. Only the top executives of 
our company will be there. No outsiders. I'm given the task of 
conducting the seminar. It'll be over on 7th January. After that 
I wish to take a week off and stay back in Nepal. Won't you 
come? Please. Or why should I ...? 

Both of us ... Remember your telling me about a lake down 

T. padmanabhan/49 

the Annapurna valley and the solitary island in the middle of the 
lake? About how you'd spent a few days in a hotel on that island 
before we'd met? Today I'm in a hurry to go there, to spend a 
few days there with you, totally forgetting this my world ... 

He remembered: from the day he got the letter he too was 
in a hurry! 

In the evening they went to Pasupatinath's temple. He had 
arrived by the mid-day flight. Gowri said, with a child-like gaiety 
and enthusiasm : "Let's walk it." 

He had been there before, so he said : 

"You'll be tired, it's too far away. And the path is dirty .. ." 

Gowri said again : 

"Doesn't matter. If 1 tire there's someone to look after me 
today ..." 

And then, pretending to be grave, yet with a naughty smile : 

"This time when-l appear before the god I'll have my lord 
with me!" 

He remembered : Hadn't her voice trembled when she 
uttered the word "lord"? Hadn't the flames of hope and expect- 
ancy suddenly spread into her beautiful eyes? 

But, then, he .... 

It was twilight when they reached the temple. By that time 
Gowri has forgotten the god! She said, disgusted : "How dirty!" 

They climbed down the stone steps at the back of the temple 
to the banks of Bagmathi. There Bagmathi was a little calm, 
though she came rushing in from the distant mountains, raking 
up the soil and clamouring like one possessed. Yet she appeared 
quite dark. 

On the banks of Bagmathi, corpses lay burning on the pyres. 
Corpses that had almost burned down; half-burned corpses; 
corpses that had just caught the flames; corpses that lay stiff on 
the riverbank, waiting for their turn. 

The sky was dark. And there was a slight drizzle. But they 
stood there, oblivious of it all, silently gazing at the burning pyres. 
Then he said : "That's enough. Come, let's go." But Gowri 
refused to move. She stopped him, taking hold of his hand. 
Gowri didn't say anything. Her eyes were glued to the burning 

50/INDIAN literature : 155 

The pyres kept burning noisily, 

Gowri stood dazed, as if in a faded picture. 

Next morning they went to Pokhara by air. Their little aircraft 
flew low over Bagmathi, over the fields and houses of Bagmathi. 
Gowri was very happy. 

From Pokhara to the shades of Annapurna by car. And then 
to the old hotel in the middle of the lake ... Hotel in the sense 
of a few huts built of rough-hewn boulders and unpolished 
timber. And in the huts: cots, tables and chairs made of bamboo 
and rattan reed. 

T. padmanabhan/51 

The only amenities of the civilized world available there 
were running water and electricity. And a telephone. 

A few days of the fullest peace ... 

From the verandah of the hut, one could see the quiet waters 
of the lake. And the valley on the other side of the lake. And 
wild flowers. And, above it all the snow-capped Annapurna. 

Gowri was happy. 

Yet a fear nagged at him. However hard he tried, he could 
not clear his mind of the figure of Gowri, oblivious of everything, 
standing dazed before the burning pyres on the banks of Bagmathi 
as if in a faded picture. 

Later, holidays over, both went their separate ways, to their 
own worlds, wearing the usual masks ... 

Immediately on returning, Gowri wrote : "Yesterday the 
journey didn't tire me at all. Do you know who was with me? I 
won't tell you! I don't know, but I've changed completely! This 
love is sweet pain indeed! Didn't you write once that you love 
me with pain? How true! I know it now. Even in the midst of 
manny dilemmas, an unnameable joy." 

Now, as he walked along the deserted streets of Gopalpur 
with Gowri beside him, he too thought of those dilemmas. Not 
just those of Gowri, but his own as well. 

At one stage Gowri asked : 

"What are you thinking? You're so silent." 

He was startled. Then he said gently : 

"No, nothing." 

Gowri took hold of him and stopped him under a lamp 
post. She gazed at his face and said ; 

"Tell me the truth. Are you fed up with me? Feel ... at times 
... you should've had nothing of this ... ?" 

As he looked at her in surprise, she continued : "At times, 

I remember ... especially these days ... I don'tknow why. You've 
never ... never shown any lack of love. Yet these days ... I feel 
... I'm a burden ... it was I, wasn't it? Who took you down the 
unknown depths of love! And, at first, you tried to get away. 
Still I ... 1 knew there was love in you. And I needed it, needed 
it badly. So, forgetting everything else ... 

Not allowing her to complete the sentence, he held her 

52/iNDIAN literature : 155 

close to his bosom. He was on the verge of tears. He said, kissing 
her tenderly on the forehead : 

"Don't say such things! I can't stand it." 

She stood close to him, and closer still, like a wounded little 
bird seeking shelter. And said as if to herself, almost sob- 
bing : "My Sumi, my Sumi, my daughter! To see her at the 
boarding school, 1 ... like a liar, a thief, hiding ..." 

He had no words with which to console her. 

She said again : 

"Won't even grant divorce! Says I should go to court if 
necessary! Not done with oppressing me ... still going on ... no 
... 1 can't ... can't ..." 

The two of them stood there unable to say anything. 

After a long while, he said ; 

"Come, we're here to see the sun, aren't we? Come such 
a long way, and so early, and yet ..." 

She tried to smile. 

"Whatever did I say! Things I shouldn't have spoken of. But 
one moment! Lost hold on my mind ..." 

He said, gently stroking her : 

"Come, let's walk." 

Stepping into the beach from the road and walking toward 
the rocks which, wet with the morning's mist, appeared unclear 
like an ashen picture, he uttered softly the words of an old favour- 
ite poem ; 

"Seeing a star I forgot the night. 

Seeing the fresh rain 1 forgot the drought." 

The sea was quiet. 

They sat on the rocks looking out at the sea and waiting for 
the sun to rise. 

They did not speak. 

In a weak moment of silence, he asked : 

"Shall 1 tell you a story? I've always wanted to . . but couldn't 
... now ..." 

Gowri said, quietly ; 

"You've never told me a story, have you; And I've never 
asked you to. Yes, I'd love it. Tell me." 

For a while he was lost in memories. And then began to 

T. padmanabhan/53 

speak slowly : 

Once, a long time ago, there was a young man. And a 
young girl whom he knew. She was the younger sister of a friend 
of his. And their families knew each other quite well. So the 
young man and the girl had no difficulty in meeting, and talking 
to, each other. 

The girl was very beautiful. She always spoke gently, ten- 
derly. To the young man her words were nothing but elixir. 

The girl loved him with her whole heart. And he loved her 
too. One day something happened. Both were in his room, in 
a deep embrace. Suddenly, thinking someone was coming that 
way, he drew away from her in haste. And she too did so. In 
the midst of this commotion, some of the glass bangles she wore 
got crushed and her lovely arm was bruised. 

No one, in fact, had come that way. They had merely 
imagined it in their fright. 

A few tiny drops of blood appeared on the girl's wrist. 

The young man wiped them off and said, holding the broken 
pieces of bangles in his hand : 

"I'll buy you new bangles." 

And then she gave him a look that was to haunt him through 
his life. 

Shesaid : "No, It's enough that you remember this always!" 

Later the young man went abroad for higher studies. 

Those days they seldom met. It was not the girl's fault. In 
fact it was he who behaved like a coward. 

As time passed by, the girl got married and became a mother. 
It was a well-to-do businessman who married her. 

Though at times the young man's conscience was pricked 
by the thorns of repentance, he consoled himself, thinking "She's 
ended up in a well-to-do home, with a good husband, a happy 
marriage ..." 

But, in truth, those consolations had no basis whatsoever. 
The girl's life was quite sorrowful. Only discord and dissonance .. . 

And then she fell ill, and died. 

But before her death, he had seen her once. 

He was on his way to see a friend. He knew that the girl 
lived somewhere nearby with her husband. As he walked along 

54/INDIAN literature : 155 

a lane thinking of many things, he heard a noise from one of the 
house plots. 

It was the girl, hiding behind a tree. Looking at him ... 

He was dumbfounded. 

The girl looked exhausted, drained of the last drop of blood, 
pale ... 

Only a moment did they stand there, looking at each other. 

Yet, in that brief period of time, her eyes flowing with the 
old love and hope ... 

Even then the young man acted like a coward ... 

Later, as years passed by, the remembrances of all these 
followed him like bloodhounds. 

And then, many years later, the young man — he was middle- 
aged now, and a high-ranking officer in some far-off place — was 
travelling by car through the streets of olden days. He was accom- 
panied by his elder sister. As the car slowed down to take a turn, 
a girl — or a young woman? — passed them by. 

He was shocked. 

For a moment his heartbeat stopped. 

As he kept staring at the girl who had passed by, kept staring 
as if he had seen something unbelievable, his sister said : 

"You don't know her. It's our old — 's daughter. Comes to 
our house occasionally. Poor girl!" 

He was still in a state of shock. 

His sister said again, remembering something with a deep 


"Her mother ..." 

Unable to speak, he removed his spectacles and wiped his 
face with a handkerchief. 

The handkerchief was getting soaked ... 

He finished the story and remained silent. 

Gowri too didn't say anything. Yet . . . her hands lovingly . . 

There were still clouds in the sky above the sea in Gopalpur. 

It seemed as if the sun was playing hide and seek behind 
the clouds. 

They waited patiently. 

Translated from Malayalam 
fay y.C. Harris 



I sat reading on the armchair; she sat reading on the mattress 
spread on the floor. 

Etta!*, she calls. 

I play deaf. 

Etta!, she calls again. 


Listen to this. She reads: "Manu, the lawgiver of Hindus has 
laid down only one vocation for a Sudra; to serve the upper 

Yes, I say. 

Etta, are you a Sudra? 

At your service! 

Her interest was Vedas. She reads Vedas, chants mantras. 
My interest. Was different. 

Listen to this! I read aloud from the book about the revolution 
of Russian Sudras: "It was just 8.40 when a thundering wave of 
cheers announced the arrival of a short, stocky figure with a big 
head, set down in his shoulders, bald and bulging. Little eyes, 
a snubbish nose, wide, generous mouth and heavy chin, clean 
shaven now, but already beginning to bristle with the well known 
beard of his past and future. Dressed in shabby clothes, his 
trousers much too long for him. Unimpressive, to be the idol of 
a mob, loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have 

Etta — ^Vocative form of Ettan, elder brother. Also used honorifically. 

56/INDIAN literature : 155 

Who was this smart guy, she inquires. 




Are you really forty three years old? 

Yes, really and truly. 

Shall 1 pluck off your grey hairs? 


I saw Ajitha yesterday. 


At the bus stand. She was selling the Red Book. 


No. There were quite a few onlookers. What are you think- 
ing? Nothing. Listen! : “Now Lenin, gripping the edge of the 
reading stand, letting his little eyes travel over the crowd as he 
stood there waiting, apparently oblivious to the long-rolling 
ovation, which lasted several minutes. Lenin said; 'November 6 
will be too early ... On the other hand November 8 will be too 
late. We must act on the 7th, the day when the Congress meets, 
so that we must say to it, here is the power! What are you going 
to do with it?" 

Ajitha looked very vyeak, she says, which group are you in? 

Before my hair turned grey, before you were born, I was a 
pupil in Sage Namboodirippad's Ashram, 1 reply. 

What did you learn? 

Servitude. Namboodirippad is a Brahmin, isn't he? 

She had long, curly hair. She never kept it combed. She 
chewed the tips often. 

Etta, do you like me? 


Shall I read from the Veda? 


She reads: “The soul has no sex, but the body is male or 
female. In the Vedas the soul is referred to as 'it', not 'he'. 'He' 
would signify that Divinity is male. 'It' is unqualified and neutral. 
This is advaita." 

Wonderful, I say. 

She gets up, gathers her hair in her hands and holds it over 


her forehead in a bunch. 

How do 1 look? 

Not too good. You look like a yogi. 

She would have preferred to look like a Yakshi rather than 
a Yogi. 

Shall I make a sandal-mark on my forehead? 

Whatever you like. Don't disturb me. 

She comes nearer and sits on the arm of the chair. 

Edathi* won't like me sitting near you. 

You shouldn't sit too near. 

Suppose I do? 

She tosses the bunch of hair and it spills all over her face. 
What did Namboodirippad teach his Sudra disciples, she 

Armed revolution. 

Oh my! what is the revolution for? 

To give the land to the tiller. 

Father's land? 

Yes, that too. 

The whole of it? 

How shall we live then? 

One should work for a living. 

Should I work too? 

Yes, you should too — along with the bloke who marries you. 
My God! 

I read again: "In a certain upstairs room sat a thin-faced 
long-haired individual, once an officer in the armies of the Tsar, 
the revolutionist and exile, a certain Avseenko, called Antonov, 
mathematician and chess-player; he was drawing careful plans 
for the seizure of the capital." 

ftfa, whom do you really love? 

Your sister, my wife. 

Look, didn't you quarrel with her yesterday at 8.30 P.M. 



Edathi ; elder sister 


Just for a lark. 

No. Shall I tell you why? 


Because you put your arm around my shoulder. 

I play deaf. 

Edathi had seen it. 

Will you please shut up. 

Etta, do you quarrel with everybody? 

Uh huh. 

No wonder. It's because you went to learn armed revolution. 
How old were you then. 


What happened? 

I joined the insurrection. At Vayalar. 



To capture power for the Sudras. 

And they gave you hell, didn't they? 

No, we sowed the seeds of revolution among the people. 

Etta, you are old enough to be my father. 

I am. 

Why do you want a revolution now? 

The revolution is not for me alone. 

She brushes the hair away from her face and opens the book. 

Etta, do you know what the Katopanishad says? She reads: 
"Awake, arise, stop not till the goal is attained!" 

She shuts the book and stares at me. 

Now power has come into the harids of Namboodirippad, 
the sage who initiated you into revolution! 

Yes, but Namboodirippad is not a Suc/ra. He is a blue-blood! 

Listen : "Lenin was reading the decree on land: All private 
ownership of land is abolished immediately without compensa- 
tion. All landowners' estates and all the land belonging to the 
Crown, the monasteries and church lands with all their appurten- 
ances are transferred to the disposition of the township land 
committees and the District Soviets of Peasants' Deputies until 
the Constituent Assembly meets. The lands of peasants and Cos- 
sacks serving in the army shall not be confiscated." 

Etta, all land belongs to God. 

Yes, you can say everything belongs to Lord Vishnu Nam- 
boodirippad. But Sudras should get the right to till it and reap 
the fruits of their toil. 

Ajitha and I are of the same age. 

Yes. But her hands have the strength to fire a gun. 

They beat her up badly. 


Ajitha's mother. 

She didn't tell them anything. She just smiled. 

They kicked him with boots. 


Gopalan, you know, the one who lost his arm. The cops 
got him. 

I read: "At Two O Clock, the land decree was put to vote, 
with only one against and the peasant delegates wild with joy 

60/INDIAN literature : 155 

... SO plunged the Bolsheveiki ahead, irresistible, overriding hesit- 
ation and opposition ...” 

Ec/ath; didn't like to marry you, she says with a secret smile. 
How do you know? 

I know. 

Did she tell you? 

She told mother. Reasons; a) you were too old, b) you were 
not much to look at. 

How old were you then? 

Nine. Mother said your family was rich. 

She edges nearer. 

Edathi had had several good proposals. 

What happened to them? Weren't the families rich enough? 
Oh, stinking rich! But Edathi liked none of them. Father got 
wild and abused her a lot. Finally she told him to choose anyone 
he liked. 

Please leave me for your veda. 

Edathi nearly cried herself to death the day you first went 
to see her. 

Please go to your bedroom and read. 

I love you, Etta. 


Shall 1 go for a bath. 

Yes, at once. And don't forget to put a sandal-mark on your 

She left the room, but was back in an instant. 

Feel my forehead. I think I have a temperature. 

I felt her forehead. 

Hell. It was cold. 

Etta, your hand is warm. 

She left me again. 

Phew! I read again; "At 2.30 fell a tense hush. Kameniev 
was reading the Decree of the Constitution of Power; until the 
meeting of the Constituent Assembly, a Provisional Workers' and 
Peasants' Government is formed which shall be named the Coun- 
cil of People's Commissars.” 

The historian chronicles excitedly ; 

"For this did they lie there, the martyrs of March, in their 


cold Brotherhood Grave on Mars Field, for this thousands and 
tens of thousands had died in the prisons, in exile, in Siberian 

I heard the gush of the shower in the bathroom, with her 
singing in accompaniment. She would be back after the bath, 
pretending to dry her hair under the fan. She wouldn't leave me 

I resume reading: "There were bayonets at the edges of the 
room, bayonets pricking up among the delegates, the Military 
Revolutionary Committee was arming everybody. Bolshevism 
was arming itself for the decisive battle with Kerensky, the sound 
of whose trumpets came up with the south-west wind ...” 

The gush of the shower and her singing stopped. The bath- 
room suddenly became quiet. 


62/INDIAN literature ; 155 

What is it? 

Please get me a towel from the wardrobe. 

I heard the loud thump of my heart. 

Don't get alarmed. Edathi is upstairs. 

The door opened a crack and she put her hand through to 
take the towel. 

Let me recite a manthra for you, she says through the crack 
in the door: "Thamevaikam Janetha Athmanam Anyavachopi 
Munchana! This means, know only thy soul. Give your ear to 
nought else." Edathi is fast asleep! 

I opened the book and, with an effort, went back to the 
Russia of winter, 1917; "Kerensky, with the Cossacks, was mak- 
ing hurried preparations to take Petrograd. The Revolution in 
peril! People's Commissar Trotzky spoke to the workers; March 
towards Petrograd! The moment is decisive. We've won power: 
now we must keep it. Our debates are now in the streets. For 
each revolutionist killed, we shall kill five counter-revolutionists!" 

She asks in a choked voice from the bathroom; 

Etta, can I borrow a shaving blade of yours? 


Oh, you're stingy! 

What do you want a blade for? 

I want one. 

Ask your Edathi. 

O.K. Forget it. 

The historian notes; "Three battleships lay anchored in the 
harbour, their guns trained on the gateway to Petrograd." 

She says loudly: Etta, the soul need not be a part of life. 
That is why it is ageless. The soul redeeming itself from life ... 

"Next morning, Sunday, the llth, the Cossacks entered Tsar- 
koye Selo, Kerensky himself riding a white horse and all the 
churchbells clamouring. Petrograd woke to bursts of rifle-fire and 
the tramping thunder of men marching." 

"Over the bleak plain on the cold, quiet air spread the 
sounds of battle, falling upon the ears of the roving band. as they 
gathered about the little fires, waiting ... So it was the beginning! 
They make towards the battle, and the workers' hordes pouring 
out along the straight roads quickened their pace. This was their 


battle, for their world. For the moment that incoherent multiple 
will was one will.” 

She came out from the bathroom. She had wrapped a 
bath-towel around her body which barely convered her breasts. 
Her manner was that of a fully dressed woman. 

Can I put on the fan, she asks. 

Put on a sari first. 

Oh, don't rush me. Let me dry my hair. 

Don't let Edathi see you near me in this outfit. 

You are an old man, aren't you? 

She puts the fan on. 

If Edathi sees us here now she would say, "that's cute! The 
virgin offers herself to the revolutionary! Beat it!" 

"The pickets of Kerensky's Cossacks came in touch. Scat- 
tered rifle-fires, summons to surrender. They were met by the 
Red Guards of the Revolutionary Army and workers armed with 
strange weapons! In that decisive confrontation, the Revolution- 
ary Army, the army of the poor surged like a human tide. The 
sailors fought until they ran out of cartridges, the untrained work- 
men rushed to the Cossacks and tore them from their horses. 
The Cossacks broke and fled leaving their artillery behind them 
... The old workman swept the far-gleaming Capital with his 
hand in an exultant gesture. 'Mine', he cried, his face all alight, 
all mine now! My Petrograd!" 

Etta, didn't Namboodirippad pay homage to the martyrs of 
Vayalar before he took his oath of office? 

Yes, he did. He took his oath, and the next thing he did 

was to have Mandakini beaten up. 

Etta, you're jealous. 

Yes, I'm jealous of Mandakini, 

Etta, have you heard of Allahopanishad? 

What Upanishad? . j 

It is an upanishad which extols Allah and calls Mohamme 


No, I haven't. 

Allahopanishad was composed at the time of Akbar. 

Translated from Malayalam 
by K.M. Sherrif 



M URUGAN NAIR, the policeman, sat beneath the banyan 
tree and listened to the clamour of birds in its enormous 
canopy. It was the birds, he thought, who determined the unquiet 
trails of a policeman. If the bird called out to you from the crystal 
dome of noon in a long whistle, it meant a long long trek; if it 
was the querulous chatter of the little birds instead, it would 
mean respite in the journey. Murugan Nair sat and yawned. 
Overhead the birds of different feathers flocked in contending 
phalanxes. But the large Birds of Yama, the Death God, who 
summon the aged with awesome incantation, slept on higher 
tiers of the canopy. Murugan Nair took off his quilted cap and 
let his close cropped head cool in the breeze. He looked inside 
the cap, he hadn't made a replacement for a long time. The 
circular strip of leather inside was black with residue of sweat, 
the absurd striving of many years, the hunt without a quarry. He 
had been on this hunt for nothing these thirty years, and there 
were only two months to go now as a policeman. Clad in the 
uncomfortable uniform of the country police — the red quilt cap, 
the thick tunic with its big buttons, puttees from ankle to knee 
and bare feet — he had wandered many places, over the ridges 
through the paddy where the crab and the field mouse burrowed, 
across deserted plateaux where the mirage dazzled him, and 
yet, for his pains, all he managed to hunt down were starving, 
scrawny whores or pathetic bootleggers. 

The little temple faced the banyan, and he looked towards 
it in grudges. Its doors begrimed with the oil of a thousand 
offerings stood shut. This was the temple of the outcastes, and 
the outcastes had seldom any money and so, this goddess was 

o.v. vijayan/65 

worshipped only occasionally. Sour ale was a part of the offering, 
and Murugan Nair would wait for the nights of worship to nab 
his bootleggers. However, he ensured that the worship itself was 
not interrupted. He came both as policeman and devotee. The 
bootlegger too was a devotee, bringing the brew dear to the 
goddess. Murugan Nair considered the chase and the arrest as 
a cleansing spiritual terror. Murugan Nair himself would come 
to the temple with some offering, a fowl perhaps, or a measure 
of steamed peas, he would share it with the bootleggers, and 
share the brew as well, the eucharistic drink being a prelude to 
the chase. 

“O Crashelan!” Murugan Nair raised his voice. 

"O venerable policeman!” the bootlegger answered. 

"Run you scum! Today 1 will kill you!” 

This was ritual, and in the ritual rose the policeman's crusad- 
ing anger, the anger of which he himself had no awareness a 
little while ago when he drank from the earthen bowl of the 
bootlegger. The chase was along a predictable orbit round the 
temple, and was carried on with much exaggerated posturing, 
it ended when both policeman and bootlegger were tired. Then 
Murugan Nair would solemnly arrest the bootlegger in the name 
of the Temperance Laws. 

Murugan Nair loved these nights of worship when the oil 
lamps tinted the idol with fire. While he stood in the temple 
praying, the goddess was a mother; after the prayer the mother- 
hood slowly gave way to sensual contemplation. The granite 
thighs of the goddess reminded Murugan Nair of all the outcaste 
peasant women he had slept with during his years of policing. 
This secret sin worried him. He feared that the Marxist devotees 
of the goddess, outcaste activists, might discover it in some mys- 
terious way. 

As he sat that day on the raised plinth around the foot of 
the banyan, for the first time in many years he sensed his anger 
against the goddess. The policeman's life was a long ritual hunt, 
and the goddess had not blessed him. He caught none but whores 
and bootleggers. And these, though terrified of arrest, soon gave 
themselves up to undignified merriment in the prison, and to 
lasciviousness, and the magistrates set them free in any case. 

66/iNDIAN literature : 155 

These petty offenders reminded Murugan Nair of the chattering 
of the smaller birds. Beyond them, beyond the familiar futilities 
of the hunt, brooded the great birds of Yama— the extrefnists 
who wielded dagger and country bomb. 

In sad plaint Murugan Nair called out, "Mother, I have only 
two months more in harness." 

The sun eddied ruthlessly over the banyan, and the mirage 
rose, encircling the temple grounds in a burning wall. Beyond 
the wall the goddess's seeds of darkness sprouted and grew and 
blotted sight with their rampant growth . Within that vast darkness, 
in an oven of blazing light, Murugan Nair was now alone with 
the black-thighed goddess, his lover-mother. Now the clamour 
of the birds ceased in the banyan's canopy. Murugan Nair knew 
that the goddess held bird and beast and man in her spell. He 
called out, "Goddess, whore!" 

From inside the temple came the unearthy reply, "CooeyV 
He looked towards the temple in fear and expectancy, he saw 
the begrimed doors open and a woman step out. It was the form 
of Valli, Kandan's mistress, but Murugan Nair was certain that 
this was the goddess herself. The goddess, in Valli's shape, walked 
towards the banyan plinth. The birds froze deeper in sleep, and 
giant tree spiders swooned and fell off their webs, the mirage 
was now a fortress wall, impenetrable. 

"Come, come, my whore!" 

She walked towards Murugan Nair, bare-breasted, with a 
narrow strip of threadbare towelling round her waist, sweat ooz- 
ing from her honey tinted skin. He had never seen the goddess 
so demanding and justful, in dream or in fantasy. 

O poleeze!" Valli cooed in Murugan Nair's ear. His aged 
hands and legs and groin quickened with a forbidden warmth. 

"O poleeze!" she repeated, her sibilant sodden with lust. 
Murugan Nair unwound the puttees, and slipped out of his police- 
man s fatigues. The wall of the mirage rose higher. 

What would happen to us if someone crosses this wall?" 
Murugan Nair asked. 

"I will strike them down." 

"Tell me, m/whore, who are you— Valli or the goddess?" 


o.v. vijayan/67 

Murugan Nair pawed round her black, sweating waist, "Of 
what need is this towelling for the goddess?” 

"If the poleBze does not see the need, I shall cast it off." 

Murugan Nair smelt ancient sacrifice, blood and excrement 
and the wet of lust. 

"You have deserted me, my whore," Murugan Nair said, 

"How, poleeze?" 

"I haven't had my catch yet, and I have only two months 
to go." 

"Whom do you want to catch?" 

"1 want to kill." 

"So you shall. Whom do you want to kill?" 


"In what manner do you want to kill him? In an encounter, 
or will you be content if he is sent to the gallows?" 

Ittinagan was the younger brother of Valli's paramour. The 
goddess of the outcastes showed Murugan Nair extraordinary 
solicitude, ignoring her blood ties with Ittinagan, ignoring the 
power of the peasant unions. She bestowed her grace, Murugan 
Nair thought in dismay, on him, a man from the upper castes. 
Ittinagan was the elusive extremist. He materialised wherever 
extortionists forged title deeds, or landlords disowned pregnant 
farm hands; Ittinagan came to enforce the punitive law, and 
slipped out of the police dragnet,- moving amidst the people like 
a fish in water. He was young and handsome and was the beloved 
of the countryside. "I should have shot him ten years ago", 
Murugan Nair thought, dejected, "that was time enough for 
promotions." Now, with just two months to go, there would be 
no reward for that violence. The picture of the young extremist 
lying in the field, bleeding, was heady, but then it brought on 
great sadness. If his son Raghavan Kutty were alive today, he 
too would have been a full-blooded young man like Ittinagan. 
Murugan Nair had visions of his son as a little child in his arms, 
laughing and lisping, but soon this image blen'ded with that of 
the child Ittinagan. 

"O my whore — " 

"Yes, my poleeze?" 

68/INDIAN literature : 155 

"My head spins." 

With her sweat and honey, with her scents of sacrifice, she 
revived, him. 

"Do you want to kill?" 

"No, I don't want to kill. My son is dead, so are his mother 
and sister they left me alone. And I have just two months to go." 

Murugan Nair began to cry. She kissed away his tears with 
goddess's black lips. 

"What then do you want, O poleeze?" 

"I just want to catch him. The courts will take care of the 
rest. Then I can leave my harness peacefully." 

"O, poleeze, it will all be as you wish. Now lie down." 

Murugan Nair lay down on the plinth of the banyan, naked. 
She roused him with honey and sweat, with the odours of sac- 
rifice, with the outrageous touch of mother and bride. The mirage 
was a wall of crackling cinders, above them the sun blazed 
insane, and beyond the wall the darkness grew darker. He heard 
footsteps crossing the field, resounding in the darkness. Ittinagan 
was coming to surrender, the whore goddess lying beneath him 
was leading the guerilla hither with her spell. Murugan Nair 
scrambled up and got into his fatigues. Though he had no time 
to wind the puttees round his calves, he did not forget to crown 
himself with the besmirched beret of quilt, the source of power. 
In a voice that drawled with thirty years of wearing hunt, Murugan 
Nair uttered a feeble challenge, "Ittinagan, halt!" 

"Ittinagan," Murugan Nair asked, "Did you unionise the 
farm women of Krishna Moothan the landlord?" 

"I did, o poleeze." 

"Why did you?" 

Ittinagan went on smiling. 

"When Meenakshi's daughter became pregnant did you pic- 
ket the manor of Tharakan the landlord. O ittinagan?" 

"1 did, O poleeze." 

"Why did you?" 

Again, the defiant smile. 

Murugan Nair looked at the boy's broad chest and fantasised 
having shot and bayoneted him and for a moment saw the gush 
of blood. God, in these thirty years in harness, in the sad orbits 

o.v. vi]ayan/69 

he had trodden barefoot over thorn and pebble, he had not been 
fated even once to shoot or bayonet. But the next instant another 
image rose in his fantasy — Raghavan Kutty, his dead son, who 
was of the same age as ittinagan. Tears welled in his eyes, but 
regaining the policeman's power and intelligence, Murugan Nair 
ordered, "Ittinagan, run!" 

Ittinagan turned and ran. Murugan Nair heard Valli sobbing. 
Clumsily covering his nakedness, in the confusion of shame and 
battle Murugan Nair repeated. "Run". 

His clothes askew and his buttons in the wrong holes, Muru- 
gan Nair went tumbling after Ittinagan. The mirage's wall of fire 
collapsed, and so did the field of darkness, falling down like 
unharvested corn. And now the familiar daylight was once again 
upon the ridges and footpaths. Murugan Nair looked back for a 
moment and saw the goddess wrap the towelling round her waist 
and walk back into the temple. 

Murugan Nair punctuated the tardy chase with feeble battle 
cries. His thirty years were coming to a close, and this was the 
last chase, it knew no obstacles, neither stile or sluice nor 
thorn-bush. The thirty years had worn him down, yet he would 
not let his steps falter. For behind him were those who urged 
him on, drove him with whip lashes and obscene curses, dead 
inspectors of police, superintendents. 

"Chase on, worm!" he heard the voice of inspector Sheka- 
ran, long dead. Shekaran cracked the whip. 

"Mercy!" Murugan Nair screamed as he ran. 

Now it was the voice of Vareed, the dead superintendent. 
Itthundered, "Did you lay that outcaste woman, O Murugan?" 

"Pardon, chief." 

There was an enormous cracking of whips; Vareed and 
Shekaran, and behind them the nameless and shadowy ancestors 
of the police. 

"Run, Murugan!" 

Far ahead of him Murugan Nair saw Ittinagan break into a 
lively sprint. Ittinagan was now climbing a rocky ridge. Then 
ittinagan stumbled, and rolled down the ridge. Murugan Nair 
uttered his battle cry and behind him the whip lashes sliced the 
air, whistling. On his calves from which much of the grey hair 

70/INDIAN literature : 155 

had fallen. Murugan Nair felt the singeing lashes. 

“Where are your puttees, worm?" screamed Vareed. 

“Pardon, chief pardon! I forgot to tie them." 

“Go back to the banyan and pick up your puttees and tie 

“Mercy, chief! The effort will kill me." 

His thirty years of servitude had made him an old, old man. 
If he ran back to the banyan tree and again ran after Ittinagan, 
he would split his veins and die. A great tiredness came over 
him, and he scanned the far ridge for ittinagan. His eyes darkened. 

“Run back to the banyan!" 

“Mercy, chief! I falter." 

The whip lashes bruised his back. “Rascal! About turn!" 

The word of command was given in English, the sacred 
language of the police battalions. In mesmeric obedience Muru- 
gan Nair turned, and hobbled onto the banyan, panting and 
spitting blood. The ghosts of the police were still at his back, 
and the whip lashes hummed like swarms of gadflies. Now desp- 
erate, lost to all thoughts of survival, Murugan Nair cried out, 
"Mother, goddess!" 

The temple doors stood shut. Murugan Nair tottered past 
them and reached the banyan tree. There on the plinth the puttees 
lay unrolled like underclothing, crumpled and filthy. Murugan 
Nair sat down on the plinth, the tiredness enveloping him like a 
soft foetal sack. 

Now the ghosts had vanished. Slowly he began wrapping 
the puttees round his calves. His hands were unsteady, and the 
rolls never came right. He tried and tried again, yet the accursed 
trussing slipped down. It was then that Murugan Nair looked 
down at his extremities, his bare feet were bleeding. He looked 
at the blood and sobbed and soon the sobbing became a loud 
lament. As he sat wailing thus, the canopy of the giant banyan 
descended on him like a quilt of down, smothering both lament 
and blood with its warm velvet darkness. 

Murugan Nair came to himself in a hospital bed. He could 
not reckon how long the swoon had lasted. They pierced his 
veins with syringes, they prised his lips open to pour in bitter 

70/INDIAN literature : 155 

had fallen. Murugan Nair felt the singeing lashes. 

Where are your puttees, worm?" screamed Vareed. 
Pardon, chief pardon! I forgot to tie them." 

them banyan and pick up your puttees and tie 

Mercy, chief! The effort will kill me." 

years of servitude had made him an old, old man. 
If he ran back to the banyan tree and again ran after Ittinagan, 
wou sp It is veins and die. A great tiredness came over 
im, and he scanned the far ridge for Ittinagan. His eyes darkened. 
Run back to the banyan!" 

"Mercy, chief! I falter." 

The whip lashes bruised his back. "Rascal! About turn!" 
lanpiiaoo ° rionimand was given in English, the sacred 
ean Na' ? battalions. In mesmeric obedience Muru- 

soittino ‘he banyan, panting and 

and thewhi i ghosts of the police were still at his back, 

erate lost tn aM hummed like swarms of gadflies. Now desp- 

"Mother, goddess!"^®^^^ survival, Murugan Nair cried out, 

them^a^nVrpTHl^rffk° u Murugan Nair tottered past 

lay unrolled lik^ ^ There on the plinth the puttees 

Nair sat down n °[hing, crumpled and filthy. Murugan 

soft foetal sack. ^ ^ ^""^dness enveloping him like a 

the putties ^rL^d°h?sca^^^^ wrapping 

rolls never ramn riokt u ^ hands were unsteady, and the 

trussing slioned dn again, yet the accursed 

do^ft hrextetr- ‘hat Murugan Nair looked 

at the blood and snhh^'i^’^ bleeding. He looked 

lament. As he sat w 'i-^ ‘h^ sobbing became a loud 

descended on him liS aVuilt^H^ canopy of the giant banyan 
and blood wilh Its warm vellet darness!"” 

not reckontow ionaT bed- He could 

veins S syrrJrfhl ’"To 

' Ihey prised his lips open to pour in bitter 

o.v. vijayan/73 

slept on like cadavers awaiting disposal. 

Raghavan Kutty looked on into the distances, and listened 
to faraway sounds. The earth cried out in the joy and pain of 

"Oh, my goddess!" said Raghavan Kutty breaking into sobs. 

"What is it, my son?" 

"The noose has unwound!" 

Far away Ittinagan pulled his head back from the noose that 
had become a mass of unravelled strings and walked out of the 
prison that crumbled into rubble. He walked past prison guards 
lying in deep swoon, he walked through the travail of the quake, 
stepping on the sensuous belly of the earth mother. 

Murugan Nair sat up in his destitute's bed and embraced 
Raghavan Kutty. 

"Have you been saved, my child?" he asked. 

From the gaping crypts of the earth rose the embodied sons, 
they sat on hospital beds and consoled their orphaned fathers. 
From the many prisons, now opening resistless, the Ittinagans 
stepped out and moved about in the tides of love like fish in 
water. On Raghavan Kutty's face was the peace of the dead, its 
rich sadness. Murugan Nair looked on it and he smiled and he 
wept; then still smiling and weeping, sank back into the bed. A 
great ease freed his limbs, the ease of one who was no longer 
heavy-laden. And as sleep came over him, the cock, the police- 
man's bird of dawn, was crowing. 

Translated from Malai)alam 
hy the Author 


cock will soon crow." 

Policemen and the spirits of the dead dreaded the cock's 
crow. It sent the spirits back to their pits of darkness, and the 
policeman to the parade, ground and to the unending hunt. 

'M shall come again, father." 

"Won't these journeys hurt you, my child?" 

"1 shall bear it. Now sleep, father." 

Raghavan Kutty stooped to kiss the old man. Murugan Nair 
felt his son's tears on his forehead, and he fell asleep. Raghavan 
Kutty came the next night also, and for fifteen nights thereafter. 
On the last night he told his father, "Tomorrow before the cock's 
crow they will hang Ittinagan." 

"Alas, my son! What will become of you?" 

"All is not lost, father. Pray." 

Murugan Nair prayed. The prayer reached outto the goddess 
of the lost temple, it was mute and asked for nothing. Raghavan 
Kutty who had gone away returned before dawn, and sat once 
again on the bed. He was restless. He kept peering out of the 
window into the distance. There were black clouds in the sky, 
laced with scarlet lightning. Raghavan Kutty looked on in expect- 

"Father, the goddess has heard your prayers." 

"Has she?" 

"She has. Today the earth will quake." 

The goddess of the outcastes has heard the old policeman's 
prayer to save the guerilla of the violated and humiliated farm 
women. Awesome bolts of lightning sliced the clouds and the 
winds grew stormy. There was a great churning of tree and cloud. 
Inexplicably, Murugan Nair recalled a quaint scene from long 
years ago. He had visited Raghavan Kutty's school for the annual 
dance. Seven little girls held the tips of seven slender strings hung 
from a bow, and as they danced in a circle the strings wound 
into rope, then they danced back to unwind it. As though he 
knew his father's thought. Raghavan Kutty said. "I can see it all, 
father. Today Ittinagan's gallows turn like the rope dance and 
the noose comes unwound." 

The earth quaked with a muffled roar^ and Raghavan Kutty 
peered intently out of the window. The other patients in the ward 

O.V. VliAYAN/73 

slept on like cadavers awaiting disposal. 

Raghavan Kutty looked on into the distances, and listened 
to faraway sounds. The earth cried out In the joy and pain of 

"Oh, my goddess!" said Raghavan Kutty breaking into sobs. 

"What is it, my son?" 

"The noose has unwound!" 

Far away Ittinagan pulled his head back from the noose that 
had become a mass of unravelled strings and walked out of the 
prison that crumbled into rubble. He walked past prison guards 
lying in deep swoon, he walked through the travail of the quake, 
stepping on the sensuous belly of the earth mother. 

Murugan Nair sat up in his destitute's bed and embraced 
Raghavan Kutty. 

"Have you been saved, my child?" he asked. 

From the gaping crypts of the earth rose the embodied sons, 
they sat on hospital beds and consoled their orphaned fathers. 
From the many prisons, now opening resistless, the Ittinagans 
stepped out and moved about in the tides of love like fish in 
water. On Raghavan Kutty's face was the peace of the dead, its 
rich sadness. Murugan Nair looked on it and he smiled and he 
wept; then still smiling and weeping, sank back into the bed. A 
great ease freed his limbs, the ease of one who was no longer 
heavy-laden. And as sleep came over him, the cock, the police- 
man's bird of dawn, was crowing. 

Translated from Malay^alam 
fay the Author 

OiELHI 1981 


R AJINDER Pandey opened the window and looked out. Rows 
and rows of shops on the other side of the street. Behind 
the shops a large stretch of plain. One couldn't see the plain 
from the street. Rajinder Pandey's second floor room stood facing 
the street. So, he could quite clearly see the street below, the 
rows of shops and the plain beyorid. 

A narrow path ran across the middle of the plain. That was 
a short cut to the main road leading to Chirag Delhi. The plain 
was always deserted. Very few people used the path; But one 
could always see pigs grazing there. On the west was a Mughal 
tomb in ruins. It was inhabited by doves. One could always hear 
the doves flapping their wings and twittering. 

Pandey stood at the window, looking out purposelessly. His 
room-mate Kishor Lai was listening to a song on the radio. Pandey 
was not interested in film songs, so he stood there, bored and 

He saw Raghuvir and Nanakchand walking up the street. 
T ey were the principal goondas of the locality. Both were young. 
Raghuvir had spent a couple of days in prison for molesting the 
girl students of I.P. college at the bus stop. And Nanakchand 
had been to jail five times. The last was when he snatched a gold 
chain from a woman. 

Pandey saw Raghuvir and Nanakchand moving on to the 
p ain through the rear of Ameer Singh's dry-cleaning unit. They 
sat on a boulder, smoking. 

Pandey noticed a yellow shadow moving in from the far 

M. mukundan/75 

end of the plain. And with it another longer shadow. Moments 
ater he realised that they were a woman in a yellow saree and 
a man. And later still he saw that the man was carrying a child 
in his arms. 

Raghuvir, who was sitting on the boulder, turned his head 
and looked at the man and the woman. He said something to 
Nanakchand who too turned to have a look. Then they spoke 
to each other, got up and began to walk up the path. 

"Abbe Kishor, come on if you want to have fun.” 

Rajinder Pandey invited Kishor Lai to the window. Kishor 
Lai put his finger on the lips and gestured for silence. He was 
listening to Amitabh Bachchan's song in Lawaris. 

Nanakchand and Raghuvir were casually walking toward 
the middle of the plain, their arms flung across each other's 
shoulders, and taking turns at a cigarette they were sharing. Now, 
the yellow shadow could be a bit more clearly seen. That woman 

76/iNDIAN literature : 155 

and the man were now almost in the middle of the plain. Pandey 
could not see her face clearly through the window. But he guessed 
at she was beaudful. The young man with her was tall and 
lean. They were a happy family of husband, wife and child. 

woman covered her head with the tip of the 
protection from the scorching sun. Nanak- 
on rhf slowed their pace. Nobody was within sight 

the doves in the ruined mausoleum were quiet. 
vaar " ^ V°'Jr radio, come, take a look 


Pandey again invited Kishor Lai to the window. 

anakchand and Raghuvir came closer to the family. 
Arrejaldi, get up yaar.” 

the D'lain''''Kkhrf i'" ‘''e of 

botherine tn if moved to the window without 

Doinering to switch off the radio. 

arms^kfmb?fnH '^^S^uvir stood blocking the way. With 

boked ITthe vn ^ from his lips, Nanakchand 

turned red ^ woman and smiled. The young man's face 

-"Give way, you rascals," he said. 

said. Thetouf^"* attention to what he 

the folds of her^s^re^^" 

'rets waitZ^f '-al asked Pandey. 

KkhnrT . ^ cigarette, yaar.” 

out to Pandef ^nd held it 

the plain with added imereS There®, 

"Thev miicr u ® ^1^® sun was burning hot. 

said Pandey. Where else^cn fTlh ^ "^^tinee show, yaar,” 
woman'rface" nlrf ‘he young 

cheeks and large eves ShplTff beautiful with fleshy 

of her hair and chand on her Sead 

his ar^s"fn?fa'il^'''"^'^ "tarrying a child in 

’‘Arre brother, you're damn lucky. You got a wife as beautiful 
as Hema Malini." 

The young man lost his patience. He burned with anger. 
He had the child in his arms. And his wife was with him. Other- 
wise ... 

Somehow he suppressed his anger and said : 

"Friends, what do you want? Such indecent behaviour is 
not good. Aren't you educated young men? Please ... allow us 
to go." 

Pressing the child to his chest and holding his wife's hand, 
he made to go, sidestepping Raghuvir and Nanakchand. 

"You can't go. Wait." 

Raghuvir put a hand on the young man's shoulder. 

"You can't move without our permission, OK?" 

Suddenly the young man slapped Raghuvir on his face. The 
child began to cry aloud. 

78/iNDIAN literature ; 155 

"You dog, how dare you?" 

Nanakchand whipped out a knife from his pocket. The 
young woman's heart beat violently like a dove's. Through her 
eyes she begged her husband not to get ihto a brawl. 

The young man handed over the child to his wife and stood 
prepared for the worst. 

"Son of a bitch!" 

Patting his cheek on which the blow had fallen, Raghuvir 
turned to the young man and grabbed his shirt-collar. The young 
woman, with the wailing child in her arms, looked around 
helplessly. She was trembling all over with fear. 

"One more cigarette, yaar." 

Without taking his eyes off the plain, Pandey held out his 
hand to Kishor. He lit another cigarette and said : 

"Yaar, very interesting." 

As Nanakchand and the young man were pulling and tearing 
at each other, Raghuvir moved away to a distance, picked up a 
large stone and came back. He stood holding the stone over the 
young man's head. As she saw this, the yellow bird felt drained 
and helpless. 

On the other side of the plain, there appeared a white 
shadow. A bulky middle-aged gentleman. He had a brief case 
in his hand. For a moment he stood hesitantly, watching the 
goings-on in the middle of the plain. Then he continued walking. 

Who the hell is that pig?" said Pandey. To him that new- 
comer was a spoilsport, and he felt that he would destroy the 
whole show. 

Nanankchand and the young man were shouting and thrust- 
esch other. Raghuvir was still holding the stone in his 
and. At times he would lift it over the young man's head and 
the young woman would feel her breath vanishing. 

She felt relieved when she saw the gentleman walking 
towards them. 

Come, help, they're killing my son's father," she cried, 
k u ^ Sentleman began to walk faster. Shaking his heavy frame 
e urriedly moved toward the young woman. When he was 
just a hundred yards away, Raghuvir turned to him and said : 

Badmash, ^et out of here." 

M. mukundan/79 

He made as if to throw the stone at him. The gentleman 
was immobilised. He had also noticed the long knife in Nanak- 
chand's hand. 

"Bhago, run!" 

After a moment's hesitation, the gentleman turned and 
walked away, not heeding the young woman's plea for help. 


With the briefcase in his hand, the gentlement fled, shaking 
his heavy frame. 


At the window Pandey and Kishor burst out laughing. 

that moment Raghuvir gave a blow on the young man's 
head with the stone. The young man floundered. Now Nanak- 
chand gave a powerful kick below his belly. The young man 
bent like a bow and collapsed. 

"Those guys — Nanakchand and Raghuvir — really great, OK, 

80/INDIAN literature ; 155 

yaar?" said Kishor Lai in his broken English. 

And Pandey; "Very very great, OK, yaar.” 

They continued to stare. 

"Get up, sister." 

Nanakchand grabbed the young woman's arm. She was 
sitting beside her husband and crying bitterly. 

"Come with us. To that tomb." 

He pointed to the ruined mausoleum. 

"Please don't destroy me. Please." 

Her eyes filled with tears, she folded her hands and begged 

Nanakchand lifted her forcibly and pushed her forward. The 
little child lay on the ground and cried loudly. Raghuvir whipped 
out a handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it in the child's 
mouth. The child's eyes popped out. He stopped wailing. 

The young woman shook herself free and began to run. 


"B\tch-abb6, get her." 

Nanakchand grew furious. Raghuvir chased and caught the 
young woman Then both the young men began to drag her 
toward the tomb. The doves on the walls of the ruined mausoleum 
were watching the scene in a disturbed manner. 

"/\rrd yaar, they're going to rape her," said Kishor Lai. 

Me stood staring as though watching an Eastmen cinema- 
scope movie. 

Raghuvir and Nanakchand carried the young woman to the 
interior of the mausoleum. They tore the ye.'low bird's sweat- 
renc e yellow blouse. They held her pressed against the ruined 
sone wall. She had by now lost all her strength to resist. Her 
nead turned sideways. 

"Who'd be first?" asked Kishor Lai. 

Nanakchand-who else?" said Pandey. 

Raghuvir held her against the wall. And Nanakchand unbut- 
toned his trousers ... 

That moment Rajinder Pandey's room transforms into a met- 
^oge skyscrapers grow up there. Rajinder Pandey and 
IS or Lai turn intaa population of six million. From raised plat- 
orms, amidst much fanfare, political leaders wearing Khadi 

speechify in Hindi. And in coffee houses 
' 0 with cigarette smoke, bearded, long-haired intellectuals sit 
round the tables and debate ... 

L moment a little ringdove flies in from the darkness of 

0 tomb and with its young and tender beak pecks at Nanak- 
chand's forehead. 

Translated from Malay alam 
V.C. Harris 



A t last the car came. He stepped out. The man for whom she 
had waited for years. 

He, whose name was Chandran. 

She, whose name was Chandrika. 

Chandrika had kept thinking of him all these years not merely 
because his name was Chandran. 

Chandran was none other than C.C. Chandran. He was the 
Managing partner of Messrs. Chandran & Brothers. He owned 
more than a hundred trucks which piled all over this land of 
Bharath. He had three textile mills, all in Tamil Nadu. He had 
the necessary magic potions to seduce trade-union leaders. He 
had a chemicals' plant. Besides all these, he had a factory which 
poisoned the soil and the sky. 

But she had boyfriends who moved in circles higher than 
his: poets, film-song composers, poor film producers, actors of 
the stage, painters, MPs, Deputy Ministers, Secretaries, Deputy 
Secretaries, a young politician tipped off to be the next Chief 
Minister — to put it briefly, all the successful members of the 
human race lay prostrate under her bed. 

But Chandrika desired only Chandran. 

That was how Chandran's car came to a stop on the large 
lawn in front of Chandrika's house and Chandran stepped down 
through the backdoor held open by the Chauffeur. 

They folded their hands in greeting to each other. 


She led him into the parlour. 

They sat opposite to each other at the table. 

Chandran smiled. So did Chandrika. 

Chandrika did not know what to do or what to say. She felt 
flustered and dizzy. For this was the day on which she had 
achieved her life's ambition! 

Chandrika has been worshipping Chandran since her college 
days. Even then Chandrika had boyfriends who were smarter 
than Chandran. In spite of this Chandrika adored Chandran who 
was known in college only as a weight-lifter. Each time Chandran 
passed her she was in eclipse.* During her three years at the 
college they saw each other at various spots in the college 
grounds. But though Chandrika looked at Chandran, Chandran 
never looked at Chandrika. 

Several smart boys wrote loverletters to Chandrika profusely. 
But Chandrika always longed to get a love-letter from Chandran. 
Finally she wrote one to him and waited for his reply. She wrote 
another. She wrote several. 

Chandran never replied. All those years she whirled aimlessly 
like a planet thrown off its orbit. 

On leaving college their paths diverged. 

She took up her traditional occupation. 

He joined his company. 

When Chandran became the Managing Partner the com- 
pany's performance improved. The value of its assets went up. 

When Chandrika returned home from college for good the 
status of her guests went up. As Chandrika had done her schooling 
entirely in English, she was well versed in all the intricacies of 
etiquette. Therefore Chandrika's mother retired into a quiet life 
and joined the world we live in. 

Chandrika read English papers daily. She would first look 
up the sports page. She would be thrilled if Chandran's name 
appeared anywhere on the page. Chandran was then experiment- 
ing, among other things, with weight-lifting. 

Then there was an accident. Chandran lay in a coma in the 

* There is a pun here in the original. 'Chandran' means 'moon' in Mala^ 

84/iNDIAN literature : 155 

hospital for several days. In the next room Chandrika was also 
lying in a coma. 

As they regained consciousness they learned that it was their 
cars which had collided with each other. 

Chandran was the first to be discharged. He went to the 
next room. Chandrika was still in bed. She had nearly recovered. 
But the doctors bad advised a week's rest for her. 

Chandran looked at Chandrika for the first time in his life. 
Then he asked : 

"How are you?" 

"Fine", she replied. 

She asked : 

"How are you?" 

Chandran replied : 


A few moments later Chandran asked ; 

"What can I do for you?" 

Chandrika thoughtfor a moment and her face fell. She said : 
"You must come to my place once." 

"I'll come", Chandran said. 

I'll come. I'll come. I'll come. The walls of the hospital 

Thus Chandran went to Chandrika's house. This is what 
comes off a car accident! 

The dinning table was laden with unsugared fruit juice, 
chocolate-flavoured milk, a thick salad of pista and fresh curds, 
wheatgrains fried in the sun, roasted corn, tomato sausage and 
a large plate of noodles. 

There was a heavy silence in the room. 

The turbaned butler, the third accused in the case, hovered 
round the table like a satellite. 

They sat facing each other at the table. Chandran drank the 
unsugared fruit juice. Chandrika ate the fried wheat. 

"I am through", said Chandran. 

"I am through too", said Chandrika. 

They wiped their fingers in tissue paper and went into her 


They sat bolt upright in bed and tiltecHheir heads towards 
I other. 

Chandran asked : 

"What do you want?" 

"Will you give me all I want?" 


Without waiting to think, Chandrika said : 

"O.K. You are a weight-lifter, aren't you? I want you to lift 
in your arms, hold me aloft for five minutes. I want to lie 
c on your muscles like a bird." 

Chandran said ; 

"Ail right. But there is no room here to do it. Let's go to 

"And then?" Chandrika asked. 

"There I will lift you up in my arms. It will be my last perfor- 
ce as a weight-lifter." 

Chandrika put on a new change of clothes. 

She wore a pair of Khadi trousers, a Khadi shirt and pair of 
di sandals. She put on a long scarf which had been sent to 
by her boyfriend from America. She had been keeping it 
1 her for a long time in memory of this boyfriend who was 
d. It was twenty five feet long. When folded, it would go into 

She got into Chandran's car and they drove off. 

The car ran swiftly towards the southern side of the beach 
;re there were no crowds. 

She said : 

"Chandran, would you sing a song?" 

And Chandran sang : 

I tried to sleep to kill the pain. 

When 1 wake it's still the same. 

'Cause I am living in this world you left behind 
Just like a broken piece of glass. 

You have swept me aside to pass 

Leaving shattered dreams with a longing heart in mine. 

Well, here I go again, it's just like yesterday. 

The pain is deep within my heart to stay. 

I am just a fool to sit and cry 

86/INDIAN literature : 155 

Washing years before 1 die. 

In this lonely world. 


She was intoxicated by the song. The end of her scarf slipped 
through the window of the speeding car. The scarf unfolded to 
its full length and was caught in the back wheel. 

One end of the scarf was tied round her neck. The other 
end on the back wheel. She came to her senses as she began to 
suffocate. She could not move her limbs. Was she passing urine 

Chandran, help me. But the words froze in her throat. 

The back wheel of the car, the scarf and Chandrika's neck 
dissolved in the chant of the sea. 

Unaware of it Chandran was still singing ; 

I am just a fool to sit and cry 

Washing years before 1 die. 

In this lonely world. 


Translated from Mala^ialam 
by KM. Sherrif 



In Andhra Pradesh 

T housands of devotees were pulling a holy chariot through 
Prakasham Road in Vijayawada town in Andhra Pradesh 
under a blistering afternoon sun. High inside the chariot above 
the din of its grinding wheels, amongst the green, blue and 
pink-painted wood-sculptures of galloping horses, dragons and 
bewitching yakshis, along with four other priests sat Immani Poor- 
nachandra Rao, 59 years, a good and poor man and the father 
of seven children. With the other priests, Rao too picked up the 
occasional coin the devotees threw into the chariot and put into 
a copper platter. Now and then Rao would wistfully peep at a 
coin that hit the pillars of the chariot and fell back on the street. 
Looking at the small heap of money in the platter Rao sighed. 
The coins were mostly of the smaller denominations — five and 
ten paise. Rao said to himself : it is the poor and the middle-class- 
es who make all the offerings; because their problems are many. 
Lord, of my seven children, remember five are girls. And the 
boys are bad at studies. And I am growing old and tired. The 
swelling on my right leg refuses to go away. Lord, who else but 
you can save a man of the poor middle-classes like me? 

Rao turned his glance to the temple of Kanakadurga upon 
the distant hill where it undulated in the heat's mirage like an 
image in a crooked mirror. He prayed: Mother! Kanakadurga! 

88/INDIAN literature ; 155 

This year I couldn't even bring an offering of sweets for your 
annual festival because sugar was so dear. Forgive this sinner! 

Thinking such thoughts, as Rao peeped out upon a five-paise 
coin that had ricocheted back to the street, a de-husked coconut 
thrown into the chariot by a strong-handed devotee with all his 
might split his head into two above the right eyebrow.- A 
tear-drop, encompassing his sorrow for the five unmarried girls. 

PAUL zacharia/89 

two lazy boys, and their mother, and also for a missed offering 
to goddess Kanakadurga, merged into the spring of blood that 
poured from his wound and dropped upon his dead chest. Thus 
this good and poor man could not even experience his sorrows 

In Central Travancore 

A family burial vault was being built in the vulgarly renovated 
and flamboyant cemetery of a powerful, rich parish church in 
Kottayam district. Kuttappayichettan, 63 years, the patriarch, 
peered with his eyes screwed up against the sun at the occasional 
bit of bone, decayed piece of coffin-wood and unrecognisable 
portions of clothing that was thrown up with the earth the workers 
pulled up. He whispered, as if it telling himself a secret: "Well, 
that's all that man is!" Then he went to the edge of the pit and 
called down: 'Any rocks yet?' The answer, 'No!' rose towards 
him booming like a voice from the bottom of a well. 

He sat down on the white marble top of a tomb under a 
champak tree and pondered: We are fourteen at home; of that 
Varkichan and Thdmmi went for priesthood and that's that; 
Kunhep is employed in Bombay; Mariakochu is a nun; the three 
other girls too need not be counted as they are going to be where 
they are married; of course Anna is married in the parish itself, 
but her husband's family have their own vault; that leaves six of 
us here; but suppose Kundep, as he has been saying gives up 
his job in Bombay and buys a plantation here? That will make 
it seven; but that's no way to look at it actually; because a family 
vault must endure for generations; 1 mustn't just think of myself 
and my children only; the grandchildren and greatgrandchildren 
too must benefit by the vault; after all I'm spending this money; 
a few thousand rupees to the church as fees and a few thousands 
for the work; all right; let the world see the size of our family 
vault; and there aren't any rocks blocking the digging either. 

Getting up, Kuttappaichettan went to. the pit again and asked 
the stone-mason; "What is the depth now?" the mason peeped 
into the pit and said, "It's nearly twenty feet, sir. It's almost dark 
down there. You really want to make it so deep, sir?" 

Kuttappayichettan said, "Mason, you don't understand my 


thinking. This will be the resting-place for a few generations of 
my family. Let them dig some more." Then, to see the depth of 
pit better without the glare of the sun that smiled from the opposite 
sky, Kuttappayichettan jumped across the pit. The sun, still smil- 
ing, stabbed him in the eye and trickled him. As Kuttappaichet- 
tan's searching toes couldn't find a hold on the pit's crumbling 
edge and he fell headlong into the pit, he suddenly remembered 
how as a child he used to wake up at night from nightmares 
about hell. He also remembered how his mother would clasp 
him to her breast smelling of wood-smoke, sweat and curried 
butter milk. 

The workers had just then unearthed a huge rock and as he 
fell head first on to it and died, it also flashed through Kuttap- 
paichettan's mind that his grandson was waiting at home to play 
elephant-back with him, and an arrow of sorrow pierced him 
like a cold, sharp-edged tear-drop. 

In Northern India 

To a beautiful little town in Northern India nestling in the 
foothills of the Himalayas, there came a young man, ScariaScaria, 
30 years, to find peace of mind, meditate and so on. This young 
man, conversant with Tao and Zen teachings and other spiritual 
paths, found a place to stay in the fourth floor of a lodging house 
that faced a spiritual centre. On both sides of the one main street, 
the buildings on the hill slopes floated in the lowering mist like 
groups of ghostly dove-cotes. 

One night Scaria Scaria went out for an after-dinner walk in 

PAUL zacharia/91 

the mountain roads. He came back shivering a little in the dry 
cold and stood looking out vaguely through his window. On the 
opposite side shone the window of the centre punctuating the 
night in a tidy row of lighted squares. As Scaria Scaria stood 
there wrapped in his own peace, he suddenly had the foreboding 
of a strange unrest, an uneasy wait, a beginning of sudden change 
taking place in the dark sky. He put his head out of the window 
and peered at the sky. The stars were very much there. So were 
the clouds. Away behind the distant mountains, there was the 
mild glow of the moon rising. There was nothing else in the sky. 

Thinking that he felt disturbed because he was living under 
clear skies after a long time, he looked towards the centre. There, 
in one of the squares of light, a young female spiritual aspirant 
was undressing for bed. She took off her long ankle-length tunic 
to reveal a round-necked blouse and petticoat. Scaria Scaria, in 
a great perplexity, and hearing his heart thumping, stood staring. 

I have never seen a nude nun; has anyone? What is happening 
must be what has to happen such thoughts flashed through his 
mind. The issue of right and wrong came up too but he managed 
to squash it with onq mighty act of will. The aspirant pulled the 
blouse up over her head with a sudden spilling out of her breasts. 
Then she untied the knot of her petticoat and allowed the garment 
to drop to the ground. She stood there then, naked and beautiful, 
lost in thought and mildly scratching her shapely belly. Scaria 
Scaria gripped the window-sill hard and stood frozen like a statue 
about to fly. Suddenly the nun sat down and Scaria Scaria could 
not see her. In one jump, he was upon the window. Then holding 
on with one hand to the top of the window and protecting his 
spectacles with the other, he hung out in the mountain breeze 
and searched for the vanished nun. 

Scaria's mind was in a still concentration. The cold wind 
played with his hair. Shivering, Scaria hung over the town like 
a bat, his eyes round and staring behind their glasses. 

In the windy sky above him, changes were continuing. It 
was a rare night in which what must happen, happened. A little 
flying saucer came wheeling out of the sky with a hum like 
that of a yeena string abruptly pulled and hit Scaria Scaria on his 
head. He lost his hold on the window and with a loud cry fell 

92/INDIAN literature : 155 

into the room and fainted. Before he lost consciousness, he man- 
aged to ascertain that his glasses were not broken. 

The young woman now got up, having picked up a bottle 
of oil from a box. Then she began to apply the oil on her body. 
Slowly rubbing the oil on her limbs, glowing in a viscosity both 
of the oil and the light falling on her, she stood there for a long 
time as if in a trance. What a great loss for Scaria Scaria. 

The flying saucer had fallen into the lawn below and broken 
into three. One little being was thrown out of the wreck. Another 
crawled out. It reached its companion lying still among the blades 
of grass, sat down near the fallen friend and placed its head in 
its lap and looked intently into its eyes. The face in the lap looked 
sadly into its friend's eyes and then the eyes wandered away into 
the dark night sky shimmering above them. Stars sparkled. Planets 
glowed. Beyond them, the wounded being's heart swam into 
great oceans of space: beyond abysses where darkness hunted 
light in swarms; beyond the flash-by of a million light-years its 

PAUL zacharia/93 

thoughts caressed a world that it would never see again. Its eyes 
closing as if sleepily, it saw once again a beloved and glorious 
sky; the many moons that criss-crossed it: the huge, hulking 
planets swimming in it; a sun that shone with shifting colours. 
And amongst its dark depths had glowed the great galactic clusters 
so invitingly, beckoning a child's wondering eyes and a grown- 
up's wanderlust. It knew it had finally reached the heart of the 
glow. Where? Where? A tender forgetfulness, calm and fragile, 
enveloped it and it ceased to be. Its friend limped away into the 
world of a thousand unknown creeping and prowling things, 
pursued by a shattering sense of imminent doom and vanished, 

When it was past midnight, Scaria Scaria got up from his 
faint with a headache, wondering whether it was a punishment 
for his sin that someone dropped a vessel on his head. Before 
he closed the window, he took one last look at the centre. But 
the young woman had gone to sleep a long time back. 


It is common knowledge that, natural or unnatural, all deaths 
are the same. But, with all due apologies, what is death? It is a 
conclusive annihilation or a formal conclusion? It is clear that 
unnatural death visits both the good and the bad. But do you 
then mean to say that nothing makes any difference? In that case, 
what have we got into? Also, was it the same fate at work on 
Purnachandra Rao in Andhra, Kuttappayichettan in Kerala and 
the alien being in the Himalayas? What shall we do about Pur- 
nachandra Rao's poor family, Kuttappaichettan's grandchild and 
the lost alien? Can nothing be done? Why? Take the case of the 
dead alien. Was an alien zodiac guiding its destiny? Do zodiacs 
enforce their relentless will upon the birth-charts of the new-born 
even in force-fields of strange and unimaginable stars and planets? 
Who will, if not ourselves, therefore, shed tears for the new-born 

Translated from Malai/alam 
by the Author 



A fter a series of verbal duels I decide to leave. I pack up my 
clothes, books and writing materials. I send a telegram to 
Aunt Mable telling her of my arrival. On my way back from the 
telegraph office 1 ring up Purushothaman and tell him that 1 have 
sent a telegram to Aunt Mable and that I am leaving by the 
evening train. 

"You have no such aunt. Don't kick up trouble again." 
Purushothaman repeats himself. 

"Wait till I come home." 

"Where are you calling from?" 

1 realise that he is slamming down the receiver with uncon- 
trollable anger. His tactics. To prevent me from going over to 
Aunt Mable. This has happened earlier. But now I've got to go. 

Yesterday I was in deep thought about my new work. 1 was 
lying on a grass mat in the corridor. I wanted to write a novel 
based on a very serious theme. There were vague shadows in 
the mysterious corner of the corridor. They made me feel uneasy. 
Then 1 came to realise the movement of the walls. The walls of 
the corridor shook and moved. Before I could even start worrying, 
the walls crept toward me and crushed me. Air and light were 
shut out of the corridor. Unable to breathe, I beat my limbs in 
vain against the walls which looked possessed and were crushing 

One day I went out. When I came back and tried to open 
the door, the iron grilles bent and turned like molten wax and 


crushed me. Another day the vessels piled up under the water 
tap for washing suddenly stood up and began to speak. They 
gave birth to stinking heaps of rubbish and defiantly moved round 
the kitchen and the dining room. 1 staggered and fell, vomiting 
even the intestines, like a character in an absurd play. 

1 can't stand it. It's terrible. I need peace and quiet. 

Aunf Mable's house has no walls. It is built of thin, beautiful, 
mysterious screens. It has no grilles or bolts. Only nerves. And 
throbbing veins and arteries. 

its backdrop is an infinitely vast and open seascape. There 
1 have a room of my own — with three window that open out to 
the horizon — where 1 can read and write. Aunt Mable never 
spreads dirty linen over my thoughts. She never puts a grinding 
stone on the ideas that take shape in my mind. 

These days I live exclusively in my writing. Engaged in my 
writing with a heavy heart, 1 speak and do things like a machine. 
When it becomes impossible for me to bear the weight of the 
outside world as well, 1 stagger and fall. These are the days when 
1 wish 1 can somehow curl up. If I can curl up in the primordial 
darkness and silence of my mother's womb, I can bring out my 
words in great secrecy. What 1 need is a labour room. A labour 
room which has nothing to do with the outside world. 

Purushothaman would order that 1 need not write anything 
different, that 1 continue writing the same old stuff. Till now ! 
have been writing a number of hymns, songs of praise and love 
poems. 1 have written a lot about love. Using the Radha-Krishna 
love as my key image, 1 have found the pain of parting and the 
spirit of sacrifice burning through my veins like an intoxication. 
It's 1 who found out that one could dedicate one's unrealised 
love and lust to Krishna. And I have developed it to a brilliant 
chemistry which can make one feel that illusion is reality. 

Yet my works were rejected by the male writers whenever 
they assembled for serious literary discussions. They screamed 
that when the world was hungry, love was an extra expenditure. 

1 am extremely sad that 1 created only women characters who 
made flower offerings at the same feet, who kept shedding tears 
endlessly, and who went on sobbing, sitting behind bolted doors 
with their heads bent low. Now my realities require a revelation. 


It is time for revelations of my experience of love as a lump of 
phlegm spat on to my face, and of motherhood as an iron chain 
crushing my neck. 

1 need time. And peace. In the brief intervals of relief when 
1 fall into the easychair on the verandah to remember something 
good, Purushothaman's undergarments piled up in the bedroom 
come flying at me. One on top of the other, they fall on my face, 
my neck, my chest, smothering me with their unbearable stench. 
A sword of humiliation drives into my heart. I must go. Before 
Purushothaman arrives I must get ready and stand at the threshold 
with my baggage. 

He will definitely ask me about the children. I must convince 
him that I have already recognised more veiled aggression than 
helplessness in that question. Nothing would be beautiful as in 
the past. He must realise it. 

At Aunt Mable's house 1 don't rule out the possibility of my 
getting occasionally worried about my children. As the evening 
dies out and darkness begins to fall on the sea, my life — my 
spirit — will wander over the waters like an orphaned lullaby. And 
my heart will feel the immense sorrow of my separation from my 
children. Yet I realise that I have to recreate myself through a 
separation, a departure. 

1 don't know if the moving walls will hunt Purushothaman 
instead of me. But, after all, he has more powerful muscles and, 
as he claims, "something more" in his skull — more than what 1 
have. He can use it and try not to be rendered helpless. 

The money for my journey is still a problem for me. 1 don't 
intend merely to travel to Aunt Mable's house. As I sit beside 
the window from where I can see the world's sights and travel 
quite freely without even bothering about a destination, the air 
I breathe will give shape to my work. 

I don't know if Aunt Mable can do something about the 
money. 1 should find out how she meets her daily expenses and 
how she manages to maintain quite prettily her beautiful house 
and garden. On some days she doesn't cook food. Then she sug- 
gests that I go out and have my food. The free, solitary stroll 
through the seashore is very pleasant. I walk with my eyes and 
ears kept fully open. I love those evening strolls when I roam 

my favourite streets, seeing and hearing everything, and returning 
With a little packet of food for Aunt Mable. My brain would 
move with profound thoughts and 1 would respectfully carry 
these movements in my heart and feel proud of them. For that 
very reason my head would be held high. 

It is possible that in the city where Aunt Mable lives there 
are meetings of contemporary writers. 1 could never take part in 

98/INDIAN literature : 155 

writers' discussions till the end because the panchaloha* ring I 
wore on my ankle had sunk into my flesh. My mother had got 
this ring specially made for me when I was born. Later, as 1 grew 
and the ring didn't, it was enveloped by my flesh. The panchaloha 
ring screamed and ran helter-skelter and then laid eggs in my 
flesh, giving birth to a wilderness of little rings. If I sat with my 
feet dangling for a long time, the rings, declaring their existence 
aloud, would start running about and push me into the burning 
pit of unbearable pain. 

Often in the evening 1 see a couple of poet-friends sitting 
on the railings on the bridge across the river, engaged in endless 
literary discussions. Behind their arms they have grown wonderful 
wings! Golden wings! They indulge in literary discussions with 
these wings fully spread out against the wind blowing in from 
the river. Struck by the magical light of dusk these golden wings 
would glitter! A fantastic sight! There would always be an audi- 
ence for these poets. 

I often wished I could join the audience while going to the 
vegetable mart or on my way back from the clinic where i took 
my children to be examined by the doctor. The poets spoke, 
wearing long and loose garments and flowing beards which ide- 
ally matched their wings. One must develop a proper attitude 
toward problems, they said. Open discussions such as this can 
profoundly alter one's perceptions of life. 

I wished to stay there for a long time and listen to their 
conversation. And they reminded me of the late hours by looking 
at the withering vegetables, or at the child about to start crying, 
or at the darkening evening. Or they shook and stretched their 
wings and told me quite formally that they would lead me back 
to my house. Never did they continue their discussion from 
where they had left off. 

When 1 invited them home, they came and sat in the veran- 
dah and talked to Purushothaman while I had to spend all the 
time in the kitchen preparing food and tea for them. By the time 
I removed the dishes after food, tidied up the room and came 
out, arranging in my mind whatever 1 wanted to tell them, they 

An alloy of five metals. 

SARAH joseph/99 

had done with the evening. They yawned, thanked me for the 
good food and flew away, beating their coloured wings. 

I would certainly be able to take part in the writers' meetings 
in the city where Aunt Mable lives. Perhaps I wouldn't be able 
to say anything, but my mind would absorb everything, like the 
sun-baked desert absorbs rain. It's a shame to be kept off from 
recognition in the name of a tender skin and plump body. Since 
my mind can take in anything, keeping off for the sake of skin 
care should not be repeated. And to give expression to my anger 
1 need a better method than smashing teacups. 

The very fact that Purushothaman would not be with me 
means my thought processes would not be hindered or broken. 
Whenever he- accompanied me to literary discussions he would 
keep glancing at his watch every now and then, start yawning 
by six o' clock, and nudge and prod me to leave without being 
seen. At Aunt Mable's place the first thing she asks me would 
be about my performance in the debate. Then 1 could lie back 
in my bed with a heart fired with passion. Or I could sit down 
to write with a mind fully awake. Or perhaps, I could stay there 
listening to the roar of the sea and thinking deeply about my work. 

1 am packing my things up in this cloth bag. I wish 1 had a 
friend who could help me with the money. 

It was my friend Jayadevan who advised me to go to Aunt 
Mable's house to write a book. Our. thoughts and feelings were 
complementary in nature. And they attained perfection through 
the discussion we had after reading or writing something together. 
His seething brain would achieve a brilliant expansiveness and 
depth on the days that I spent with him. 

Aunt Mable's quiet and beautiful house was an arbour ideally 
suited for the flowering of love. But i didn't consider it necessary 
to fall in love with Jayadevan. He too said one shouldn't insist 
on every relationship to end up in love. What grew up between 
us was a friendship of unconditional joy. Laughing, bickering 
and singing aloud, we recovered our lost childhood and pre- 
sented it before Aunt Mable! Whenever f talked to Purushotha- 
man about this quiet and pleasant friendship, he would explode! 

Lie! which Aunt Mable? Which jayadevan? Don't be crazy — 
go away! 


Purushothaman's strategem to unleash the winds of madness 
in my brain! Now that I have recognised it and decided to expose 
it, I can go. 

I should be at threshold, ready for the journey, before Puru- 
shothaman arrives. I shouldn't have second thoughts and get 
inside again to discuss the problem. When all his tactics fail, 
Purushothaman will come out with the big romantic lie that with- 
out me life is impossible. 

I sling my bag across my shoulder and pick up whatever 
money 1 have with me. 

Before I reach the threshold Purushothaman comes running 

"Started again?" he asks, panting. 1 keep staring at him 

Purushothaman, with sympathy, tries to take away the bag 
from my shoulder. I shake him off and with one big leap reach 
the threshold. 

"I'm off to Aunt Mable's ..." 

"Who the hell is this Aunt Mable?" he shouts. I cross the 
threshold and walk out. Let him continue to use his tactics. 

At the gate I stop and look back. Purushothaman is standing 
at the doorstep, lost in thought. Somebody has punished him. 
Who and why — let him find out for himself. I'm quite helpless 

Now 1 walk with an absolutely free movement of my limbs. 
My hands touch the horizon and come back. A winged wind 
stirs free the strands of my hair and the folds of my clothes. My 
hair unlooses itself, soars and touches the sky, and my skirt whirls 
round in a wide, wide circle and covers the earth. 

Translated from Ma/aya/am 
by V.C. Harris 



Praise the sea; on shore remain. — JOHN FLORIS 

M ADHAVAN stopped his research at the point where Kerala- 
verma Koyithampuran, the Elder began his composition of 
Kshamapana Sahasram. I his supervisor was sorry that he had 
to leave. He could have continued if he had a fellowship. As he 
bade farewell to the girls who did research with him, Madhavan 
had a piece of advice for them: don't hesitate go give up 'The 
Independence Struggle and Malayalam Literature', 'Compound 
Words in Sanghom Literature' and the like if good proposals 
came their way. These are hard times. Take, for instance, the 
fate of Keralaverma Koyithampuran, the Elder. The Water Trans- 
port Department had just scored a decisive victory over him. As 
for Madhavan, if Malayalam literature is fortunate enough, some- 
body else will take his place. 

In the city, where poets and other eminent citizens lived, 
Madhavan had rented a room, which he looked upon as a proud 
possession. Madhavan let out a sigh of relief — how nice it was 
not to be burdened of research at last! — as a vague sense of 
freedom, signalling the sprouting of poetry in his soul took hold 
of him. Here I come, with slow, measured steps; now descending 
the steps into the street, lines composing themselves in the mind 
in a crystallising motion. Words, words, wonderful words; build- 
ing them brick upon brick, soaked in the lashing rain, increasing 

102/indian literature : ns 

his pace, half in a run, Madhavan entered his room. Ali was 
pressing his clothes. 

"Come in, my bard!", Ali greeted him. Ali presented a vastly 
altered appearance since morning. He had taken a bath and was 
clean shaven. 

"Well, bid a tearful farewell to your damsels?" Ali inquired, 
cocking h'is head. Madhavan smiled. His clothes were dripping 
and the water was making puddles on the floor. Ali folded his 
clothes and put them in his leather bag. 

Two school buses stopped on the road and boys and girls 
in uniform streamed out into the rain and ran for cover. 

Ali extracted a bottle from the bag. 

"Let's celebrate your landing a job", Ali smiled. "Lucky that 
I thought of buying this in the morning on my way from the 
railway station." 

Madhavan looked rather surprised as Ali opened the bottle. 
It was nearly a year since Ali had touched liquor. Without waiting 
for Madhavan, Ali took a sip, tossed back his long, wavy hair 

C.R. parameswaran/1 03 

and leaned back on the chair. Madhavan was anxious not to 
lead Ali into any serious discussion. 

Madhavan took a sip from his glass. Ugh! Cheap, strong 
rum. Ali couldn't remain silent for long. He got up and rummaged 
among shelves where Madhavan kept volumes of poetry. Ali 
turned to Madhavan with a laconic smile on his face. "Madhavan, 
my bard, it's time you retired into married life. Your poetry knocks 
on the door of puberty. A few sonnets praising your beloved 
during honeymoon, to be followed in due course by 'A Prayer 
for my Daughter' ..." Opening one of the books in the middle 
reverently, like a prayer book, Ali drank from his glass. 

Madhavan responded to Ali's sarcasm with a polite, hollow 
laugh. If he resisted, Ali would relentlessly tear the versifier in 
him to pieces. Madhavan knew, only too well, the watertight, 
private world of his on which Ali was raining his ridicule. The 
streets, where mobs became increasingly restless, workers march- 
ing through them with hoarse-throated cries, newspapers bringing 
death and destitution to the doorsteps of homes. While storms 
raged outside, here he was, snug in his haven! Like furniture in 
the living room, neatly arranged in the compartments of his life 
were such values as love, peace, truth and compassion. And for 
the rest, the gilt-edged securities of ardent love in youth, paternal 
affection in middle-age and the metaphysical evenings as holy 
as nuns at the sagacious fag-end of life. Madhavan whispered 
deep into his heart: I was born too late! Madhavan, the poet 
should have operated before the land-reform bills were passed, 
when the first rail-tracks in the kingdom were being laid, when 
his grandfather enthusiastically trudged miles to adorn the emi- 
nent circle of logicians at the royal court of Tripunithara, when 
Ali's grandfather sold oranges in Alwaye at throw-away prices. 

Madhavan envied the exuberance and virility of his 
forefathers. They had all the luck! 

In his poems, Madhavan piled up images of sombre castles, 
where silent time slept; majestic palaces, forlorn in their dust-clad 
grief; minarets wailing under misty veils; the cows of Mathura, 
straining their ears for the magical notes of Lord Krishna's flute; 
the beat of mridungams frozen on the columns of Madurai — im- 
ages like the excrement of history. Every spell of image-making 

104/INDIAN literature . 155 

would fling him into a fit of self-contempt. Where is this fatal 
style taking me? The earth slipping from under his feet, the mon- 
strous whirlpools of sentimentality dragging him down, down ... 

The rain had stopped. Dusk had fallen and the roads became 
crowded again. 

Ali calls all poets court-jesters. The raging storms uproot 
everything. Famine and repression stalk the land. "While you 
poets, like clowns in a circus, entertain the chosen few at the 
Court with your verbal juggleries and slapstick jokes. You, with 
your odes, sonnets and lyrics!" For Ali, poetry is something 
entirely different. Fie filled the glass again. Madhavan got up and 
put on the lights and the room heater. 

Ali resumed: "Madhavan, you gloat over the magical power 
of art in your articles, don't you? What wonderful magic! Take 
Jewish children thrown into gas chambers, or the plight of 
untouchables in Indian villages or any other horrifying event. The 
moment you wizards touch them with your magic wand, they 
become beautiful, sonorous lyrics!" Ali laughed uproariously. 

The drink doesn't work on Madhavan. Ali's words hurt him. 
Ali has got himself pretty high. With child-like innocence, he fills 
the glass and empties it at will and returns ruthlessly to poetry. 

"Haven't you observed them 'revolutionary poets'? One of 
them drags in a rapid-fire expression like a howitzer, groaning 
under his breath, to bombard the ruling classes. Another prepares 
a perfect molotov cocktail from metaphors. Still another sharpens 
the twin edges of a pun. The enemy watches their play from the 
balcony, thoroughly enjoying the heat and light of their pen-and- 
paper explosions, continues to look on with interest as they 
march in columns like boy-scouts ... the discipline and grace of 
metrical compositions, the costumes of figures of speech — the 
poetical movements become faster and faster, thumping feet, 
swaying torsos ... finally the army of poets immortalize themselves 
in a bachanalian dance. Your patron, the enemy comes down 
from the balcony and thumps you on your back: Excellent! A 
wonderful performance!" 

Ali closed his eyes as in meditation for a few moments. 
Madhavan knew that he was not just having some fun at his 
expense. Finally he broke the silence: "The poetry of the renegade 

C.R. parameswaran/105 

is not the poetry born out of conflict." Ali spoke about the poetry 
of the fighter. It was not created by mere words. "You have 
heard of the twenty two brave men pierced by bullets as they 
crossed the suspension bridge over the Tat-too^ haven't you? To 
them, death was the screeching bullet which sought them in the 
very next moment. They met it with the same nonchalance with 
which we take our next breath. They were flesh-and-blood men 
like us. But that was how they chose to express themselves." 

Madhavan could understand something about these poems 
which had no metre or language. But ... summer vacations at 
home, the fragrance of the flowering mango tree, the bewitching 
beauty of his fiance ... Of course, blood flowed like water in the 
streets. But in the few seconds before she detached her body 
from his, he would have travelled far back in time! The blazing 
torches of temple processions, caparisoned elephants running 
amok, the intoxicating fragrance ohhe perfumed dresses of village 
belles ... oh my! Those lovers high on toddy lurking in dark 
corners for their paramours ... Madhavan basked in the warmth 
of words without wading deeper into life. The beauty and intox- 
ication of rhymes and metres always defeated the hard, upleas- 

106/iNDIAN literature : 155 

ant missions. “What's the time?" Ali asked. Madhavan woke up 
with a start. Seven. The hour, when far away in his village, his 
classmate, Vinodini gets ready to walk the streets. 

“Make sure to limit your divine anger to words. That'll pay. 
They'll be too eager to give you your laurels. All rebels in the 
history of literature have done no more. Purge your wrath with 
a fiery poem on Vietnam. Then booze yourself to death at the 
nearest pub and pass out. Madhavan, my boy, that's the destiny 
of all opportunists with a tender heart!" Ali's laugh was incisive. 

Madhavan felt his head swimming. The rain had stopped, 
but there was a strong gust. Ali got up, closed the door and 
turned off the light. The room-heater glowed and Ali's eyes 
reflected its red. One of the teeth in his upper row was missing 
and the gap was visible even in the dark. 

“I've always wanted to ask the generation which handed 
down its hypocrisy to us — why did you take away our youth 
and leave us old men at twenty five?"^ 

In winter, Madhavan has a regular problem with his 
rheumatism. Racking pain in every joint in the body. His father 
would smile patronisingly like a full-blooded young man. Son, 
be careful, it's rheumatism. Take some good treatment. 

Yes, father, Madhavan would reply with a sob. I spend a 
lot of money on my treatment. It's rheumatism, be careful, the 
drink now works in him affectionately. Yes — rheumatism, not a 
complete breakdown ... slow paralysis — arresting the 
full-blooded hymns and odes, petrifying the obsolete eulogies 
and elegies ... 

A voice vote. Against the Revolution — anybody? No hand 
goes up. Everybody wants revolution. Each for his own denomi- 
nation in the church of revolution. Deafening choirs heralding 
social justice. Vinodini's younger brothers go to school dressed 
in their smart uniforms. Still harping on social justice? Well, 
doesn't every Malayalam movie execute poetic justice? But a few 
hands do go up — occasionally. Angry fists raised against their 
monstrous courts and legislatures. Madhavan looked at Ali with 
a sense of overwhelming envy and sighed: I have not made my 
choice between life and living. I have not paid my price. I have 
not achieved anything. 

C.R. parameswaran/107 

Ali was getting ready to go. He put on the light and scanned 
the railway time-table. He then got up to comb his hair before 
the mirror. On the day he learned about the new October Coun- 
ter-revolution"*, Madhavan had written down the celebrated quo- 
tation from 'The Grand Inquisitor' on a piece of paper and pasted 
it on top of the mirror. This gave him a fatalistic contentment 
every morning when he shaved. This is what the world has come 
to; how helpless we are! All's eyes now fastened themselves on 
the paper and he read haltingly: 

"Freedom, a free mind and science will lead them into such 
a jungle and bring them face to face with such marvels and 
insoluble mysteries that some of them, the recalcitrant and fierce, 
will destroy themselves, others, recalcitrant but weak, will destroy 
one another and the rest, weak and unhappy, will come crawling 
to our feet and cry aloud; yes, you were right, you alone posses- 
sed this mystery, and we come back to you — save us from our- 

Ali did not laugh derisively as Madhavan had expected. He 
looked at the reflection on his face in the mirror and combed 
his hair attentively, stopping momentarily to stare into the image 
of his eyes sunken in their sockets. Madhavan poured out the 
rest of the rum into two glasses. After sometime, Ali spoke softly: 
"Madhavan, my bard, to live among men and to join in their 
struggle' is merely to demand one's life from the world. For you 
and me, it's just an existential choice, what you poets call affir- 
mation of the spirit. While you seek it in university libraries, we 
seek it in market places, factories, whorehouses and the festering 
wounds of cities — slums. But how incredibly men change! Take 
my mother. She educated us with the pittance she earned, ferrying 
passengers, in rain and sun, across the Alwaye river in her country 
boat. How exciting were those days! But that was all there was 
in her life. Now my brother sends money from abroad^ and she 
lends it out at cut-throat interest like a jewess." Ali paused. "No- 
thing may happen in this country. But let's go on talking, at least 
at intervals. And thus, Madhavan, my bard, you will live out 
your life!" 

Madhavan rested his head in his hands. He was giving his 
assent' in silence. True, everybody goes on talking. There is no 

108/INDIAN literature : 155 

dearth of communication — railway lines criss-crossing the maps, 
airbuses, microwave carrier systems, telescopes, reader's col- 
umns, your family doctor, so on and so forth 

But what message shall Madhavan communicate? Perhaps, 
beginning from where his grandfather left off, a few watered-down 
hyrrins to Rudra, the god of wrath, some patriotic numbers tuned 
to the rustic melodies of boatmen in the backwaters, marching 
songs for strikes and demonstrations, a verse play in three acts, 
e oming o Lenin for the Soviet Friendship society, meta- 
physical speculations on death 

tho packed his clothes and books in 

the leather bag and put on his shirt and trousers. As he swung 
the bag over his shoulders like a sling, Madhavan tried to focus 

JZT drink had placed a veil 

ot mist over them. 

down abruptly. After musing for a while, he said: 

here have 

cSTv highly systematic and sophisti- 

Ali fh'<;h°H h y' ^hese fellows are very imaginative!" 
UD mv mlnH ' '^°^hgt a drink would clear 

good " ^ movements carefully. It's no 

C.R. parameswaran/109 

He got up again, paused at the door for a moment — "good- 
bye, my fellow-traveller, see you some time" — and dissolved 
into the dark. In the fleeting moment before he turned away, his 
roguish eyes picked up the gentle compassion welling up in 
Madhavan's eyes. Madhavan hastily averted his eyes. Madhavan 
stood at the door and stared into the night. All round him were 
the spacious courtyards of the large houses in the colony. Pro- 
tected by the colossal compound walls, fortified like ramparts, 
snug and warm in their blissful ignorance of their moronic insig- 
nificance, men lay awake in their bedrooms, impatiently waiting 
for their wives to send their children to bed. 

Madhavan came in and put off the light. He propped up a 
pillow against the wall and leaned wearily on it. The drink now 
gives him far-sightedness. Back, back, far back into time ... 
Naduvath (junior)^ marries Nanimmutty Amma and lives happily 
ever after .... attacks the government in his poems and even gets 
the court to pass a stricture against the government ... nightfull, 
lantern in hand, VallathoF walking down his paramour's house 
... and who may thou be, entering with a flourish, on the wings 
of Tagorean angst ... lonely stars and unrequited loves, my heart 
leaps up when 1 behold ... angry young men .. and all our 
yesterdays have lighted ... Today, here, Madhavan, the poet. 
Today, Madhavan stands dazed before the tantalizing spectacle 
of daffodils, moonlit nights and heaving bosoms. But the stink 
of a rotting symphony pierces his nostrils! All his grotesque offsp- 
ring by Keka and Kakali® creep about on the floor for some time, 
raising their heads momentarily, and fall dead. Volumes of literary 
history lay piled up before him. Madhavan turned the pages 
rapidly. Oh, no! He sighed, dejected. The pages showed him 
only a bunch of greying clerks, a collection of detestable speci- 
mens of manhood. 

Outside in the night, the rain fell with metrical precision. 
The rhythm and melody of its composition tortured Madhavan 
all through the night. 


1. Keralaverma Koyithampuran, the Elder, neo-classical poet and scholar in 
Malayalam, a father figure in Malayalam literature at the turn of the century. 


Koyithampuran, related by marriage to Ayilyam Thirunal, king ofTravancore, 
later fell out with him and was exiled to Harippad. Koyithampuran, languishing 
in exile, was, as all court-poets in history, except a handful have been, quick 
to repent and promptly tendered his apologies in verse; Kshamapana Sahas- 
ram (A thousand Apologies). 

2. Reference to an encounter between the People's Liberation Army and the 
forces of Chiang-Kai-Shek during the Long March. 

3. Reference to Yayati, an exuberant, amorous king in Indian mythology, whose 
son, out of filial piety, gave up his youth in exchange for his father's age. The 
parallel is obviously a bit twisted here. 

4. October Counter-revolution — the coup engineered by Rightists in the Com- 
munist Party of China, led by Deng Xiao Ping, in October, 1976 after Mao's 

5. One of the hundreds of thousands of young men of Kerala who went to the' 
Gulf States to seek their fortune. 

6. Naduvath(junior) — a versifier in the neo-classical tradition in Malayalam. 

7. Vallathol — Vallathol Narayana Menon, one of the two pioneering figures in 
the Romantic Renaissance in Malayalam poetry in the first half of the twentieth 
century, the other being Kumaran Asan. 

8. Keka, Kakali — two metres commonly used in Malayalam. 

Translated from Malayalam 
by K.M. Sherrif 



O NCE upon a time there was a Russian and an Indian. Did 
1 say once upon a time? Just my manner of speaking. They 
live even now. One day the Russian asked the Indian, "Have 
you kept a count of the days, Govindankutty?" 

"No. I can tell you the month, though." 

Sorry, this is not the beginning of a joke. I don't know how 
to crack jokes. This could be because I am son of a communist. 
It was after I heard Sandow 'the pugilist' Gopalan talking, some- 
time before his death, to Father, that I began to think in this 
direction. Gopalan said: "Think about it. Comrade, except T.K. 
Ramakrishnan, do we have any other comrade who smiles, after 
Azheekodan was killed?" 

"Govindankutty," Bakunin said again, "itiseightyeightdays 
since we were shut inside this thing. Exactly three months in two 

I remained silent. Bakunin got up and stood before the mi- 
crophone and said, "calling Control." 

"Calling Control," this time Bakunin said seductively. For 
many days now the Control had not established any contact with 

"Calling Control," Bakunin raised his voice: "This is Soyuz 
24. Can you hear us? Don't you want us anymore?" 

Bakunin left the microphone. Wriggling his legs and swaying 
his head in the weightlessness of the spacecraft he swam about 
like a spermatozoon. 

"They don't want us. We are lost to them," Bakunin said, 
stopping his crazy swirling and sitting down beside me. "We, 
the Russians are a people who lost many things. We lost 1 3 days 

110/lNDlAN LITERATURE . 155 

Koyithampuran, related by marriage to Ayilyam Thirunai, king of Travancore, 
later fell out with him and was exiled to Harippad. Koyithampuran, languishing 
in exile, was, as all court-poets in history, except a handful have been, quick 
to repent and promptly tendered his apologies in verse: Kshamapana Sahas- 
ram (A thousand Apologies). 

2. Reference to an encounter between the People's Liberation Army and the 
forces of Chiang-Kai-Shek during the Long March. 

3. Reference to Yayati, an exuberant, amorous king in Indian mythology, whose 
son, out of filial piety, gave up his youth in exchange for his father's age. The 
parallel is obviously a bit twisted here. 

4. October Counter-revolution — the coup engineered by Rightists in the Com- 
munist Party of China, led by Deng Xiao Ping, in October, 1976 after Mao's 

5. One of the hundreds of thousands of young men of Kerala who went to the 
Gulf States to seek their fortune. 

6. Naduvath(junior) — a versifier in the neo-classical tradition in Malayalam. 

7. Vallathol — Vallathol Narayana Menon, one of the two pioneering figures in 
the Romantic Renaissance in Malayalam poetry in the first half of the twentieth 
century, the other being Kumaran Asan. 

8. Keka, Kakali — two metres commonly used in Malayalam. 

Translated from Malayalam 
fay K.M. Shenif 



O NCE upon a time there was a Russian and an Indian. Did 
! say once upon a time? Just my manner of speaking. They 
live even now. One day the Russian asked the Indian, "Have 
you kept a count of the days, Govindankutty?" 

"No. I can tell you the month, though.” 

Sorry, this is not the beginning of a joke. I don't know how 
to crack jokes. This could be because I am son of a communist. 
It was after I heard Sandow 'the pugilist' Gopalan talking, some- 
time before his death, to Father, that I began to think in this 
direction. Gopalan said: "Think about it. Comrade, except T.K. 
Ramakrishnan, do we have any other comrade who smiles, after 
Azheekodan was killed?" 

"Govindankutty," Bakunin said again, "it is eightyeight days 
since we were shut inside this thing. Exactly three months in two 

I remained silent. Bakunin got up and stood before the mi- 
crophone and said, "calling Control." 

"Calling Control," this time Bakunin said seductively. For 
many days now the Control had not established any contact with 

"Calling Control," Bakunin raised his voice: "This is Soyuz 
24. Can you hear us? Don't you want us anymore?" 

Bakunin left the microphone. Wriggling his legs and swaying 
his head in the weightlessness of the spacecraft he swam about 
like a spermatozoon. 

"They don't want us. We are lost to them," Bakunin said, 
stopping his crazy swirling and sitting down beside me. "We, 
the Russians are a people who lost many things. We lost 1 3 days 

112/INDIAN literature : 155 

when the Calender was reformed. A big black hole in the history 
of the Russians. Six days each with a day of rest — ample time 
for God to create two Universes." 

Even as a child I knew the story of the reform of the Russian 
Calender. I had gone with Father and his young followers to 
write slogans on an anniversary of the October Revolution. Then 
Father told us how the October Revolution came to be celebrated 
in November. Father started shaping a V to begin writing 'Victory 
to Revolution'. Though aged, none could rival Father in Payyallur 
in wall-writing. The young stood transfixed at the magical conso- 
nant on the white wall. No drab geometry of straight lines; Father's 
V lay like silhoutte of a sea gull diving down, pecking at the 
wave-tips and then soaring skywards. 

When writing was done, we went over to the tea shop oppo- 
site the cinema that stayed open all night for tea and pappada- 
vada. There I heard for the first time Father's stories of his past. 

"Bakunin," 1 called out when the silence inside the craft 
became unbearable, "you know, my father began his political 
career when he was ten." 

"Stalin killed my father when he was thirty six," countered 
Bakunin and grew silent again. 


Father was ter\ when he picketed the liquor shops in his 
native village, Cheranellur. By caste, our profession was toddy 
tapping and many of Father's relatives were in the liquor business. 
They taunted him; "You, toddy tapper, what else can you do If 
you don't tap toddy? But the boy wore a Gandhi cap and went 
every day for picketing. When he was older, he joined the 
nationalist Prajamandalam Party. Father met a communist for the 
first time in Viyyurjail where he was imprisoned soon after joining 
the Quit Indian Movement. 

"K. E. Eyyunni, who was running a communist front organ- 
isation called Trichur Labour Brotherhood used to come to me 
and drew me into arguments on the untimeliness of Quit India 
Movement, especially when Fascist powers were knocking at 
our doors. Though 1 didn't fully grasp what he said, slowly 1 
began turning into a Red." Father continued his story. 

"When the ban against the Party was lifted in '42 I was given 
eight annas by the Ernakulam Party Office to go to Payyallur and 
start a Party unit there. Thats how Magician Vijayan and 1 took 
a bus and came here. Vijayan was already a famous man. When 
a charlatan from ThiruValvamala produced some holy leaves 
from thin air, Vijayan did the same, but this time it was a 

Father and Vijayan recruited sympathisers in ones and twos. 
They traversed the neighbouring villages — Chottanikkara, Eloor, 
Thripoonithura. Thiruvankulam, Mamaia ... Soles of their feet 
blistered. When they ran out of money, Vijayan held magic shows 
in schools whose head masters were fellow-travellers. 

"About this time that Mathai had returned to Payyallur from, 
Ceylon with some money. Even out there he was flirting with 
communism. As soon as he came Mathai started an evening 
news paper, Aurora. He hawked the paper himself, calling out, 
Aurora half-anna, Aurora — half-anna' walking around the bus 
stand and jetty at Ernakulam." 

Suddenly 1 recalled going along with Bakunin to Leningrad 
harbour to see the Aurora. I asked: "Bakunin, do you remember 
the day we went to see Aurora?" 

Bakunin's eyes sparkled for a moment. He asked; "what 
did you do with the photograph I took that day?" 

114/lNDlAN LITERATURE : 155 

"I send it to my father," I said. That photograph was the 
only one my father ever got framed. Father would say with pride 
that it was taken in front of the ship which fired her guns signalling 
Lenin to take over. 

Father, Vijayan and Aurora Mathai formed a trade union for 
the first time among the Pulaya* farm-hands of the Thousand 
Bushel paddy fields belonging to the Kurups of Arayil. At the 
time for threshing the Pulayas demanded two sheaves more of 
paddy. The Kurups did not give in. The labourers struck work. 

"When Vijayan and 1 were walking along the fields, the 
young Kurup of Arayil and his men surrounded us. Kurup began 
to taunt Vijayan, telling him there could be no better time to do 
his vanishing trick, if he could. As for me he said he would wrap 
the toddy tapper's body in a mat and send it home. One of them 
hooked Vijayan's neck in a sickle tied to a long staff. His head 
is going to come off. I stood terrified. Then a figure materialised 
on top of paddy sheaves heaped in the middle of the field." 
Father stopped to draw in his breath. 

"Let go, Kurups, let go of Vijayan." Sandow Copalan yelled 
from top of the heap. He took of his shirt and put it down. He 
removed his coarse cotton vest. Slowly, he undid his dhoti, 
folded it and placed it on other clothes. Clad only in his blue 
'pugilist' briefs, Gopalan slided his left leg backwards while thrust- 
ing his right knee forward. His neck muscles swelled as he raised 
his head, ever so slowly. Like an archer he lifted his arms to 
string an imaginary bow. Muscles rippled all over Copalan's 
body like waves on sand dunes after a desert storm. 

"Kurup and his cohorts fell back. That was the posture which 
won Gopalan second place in the Mr. India Contest at Baroda. 
Anyway, communism spread its roots in Payyallur. Next day 
Aurora Mathai had banner head lines in his evening paper: 'Battle 
of Paddy Sheaves Won'." Father stopped his story. By then it 
was two o' clock in the night. 

"Calling Control," Bakunin said in a low voice, standing 
before the microphone. 

"Stop it, Bakunin," 1 was irritated, "if Control has anything 

* 'Low' caste in Kerala. 



to say they will say it." 

"Everyone must be soused in vodka. Pigs," Bakunin said. 

"Don't get us into trouble. Shooting your mouth of. Down 
below they must be listening with pricked ears." 

"Down below?" Bakunin pointed to the light-blue earth 
above us and smiled. "Eavesdropping stopped with Stalin and 
Breshnev. Now in Gorbachev's time nothing of the sort happens." 

My thoughts went to the comrades at Payyallur. How they 
hated Gorbachev. A couple of days before ! left, Rajendran, the 
Area Committe Secretary of the Party, Palme Dutt, the Secretary 
at the Party office and a stranger from Kannur dropped in at 
house. Father, Aurora Mathai and I were talking about Iraq which 
was losing war with America. 

"This blighter Gorbachev is at the bottom of it," said Rajen- 
dran, the Area Committee Secretary. 

"The fellow has orphaned the Third World. Today it is Sad- 
dam, tomorrow it'll be Castro," said Palme Dutt, the Secretary 
at the Party office. 

116/INDIAN literature : 155 

"He is Anti-Marx," added the comrade from Kannur. 

"Anti-Marx? What on earth is that, Comrade?" asked Aurora 

"Comrade Aurora, haven't you read ofAnti-Christ? The Bible 
says his head will be marked with the number 666. Haven't you 
seen the birthmark on Gorbachev's head, Palme Dutt? What 
does it look like?" 

"What?" Father and Palme Dutt looked excited. 

"Its the map of America. The map of America on his head! 
He who carries the rpap of America on his head will wreck 
Marxism. Anti-Marx." 

No one laughed. The comrade from Kannur had not meant 
them to laugh. He was flushed with anger. 

"When are you going, Govindankutty?" Rajendran asked. 

"The day after tomorrow. To Bangalore for a medical check 
up at the Air Force Hospital. Then Delhi. And then to Moscow." 

"Is it from Moscow they launch the rocket?" Aurora Mathai 
wanted to know. 

"No, from Bykanoor Cosmodrome. There is a six-month 
training programme there." 

Who is going with you?" asked Palme Dutt. 

"Captain Igor Bakunin. He is a pilot like me." 

"We have come to remind you," said Rajendran, "about 
the reception tomorrow evening in your honour at the Sandow 
Gopalan Memorial Library Hall." 

When Father wrote asking me to send a donation for a 
Library they were building in memory of Sandow Gopalan, I 
send 200 roubles from Russia. That evening Bakunin and I were 
walking through Moscow parks where we noticed unsuccessful 
attempts to erase anti-Party slogans scrawled on the pedestals of 
the statues of Lenin and Marx. "The comrades in our place are 
more sensible than those here," I told Bakunin, "they build lib- 
raries, hospitals and Party offices in the name of their dead lead- 
ers. These are not as easy to destroy like the statues." 

After they had gone. Father said; "Its nice that your reception 
kept in a hall we dedicated to Gopalan. When you were a little 
boy Gopalan used to encourage you to build up your body. And 
that is taking you to the Space, ahead of all other pilots in the 

N.S. madhavan/117 

When I was small, Sandow used to come to our house every 
morning with half-sprouted chicken peas wrapped in a piece of 
wet cloth. As I stood gazing in wonder at the white comma signs 
on the sprouts, Sandow would say: "Don't just stand there look- 
ing, eat up. It's full of protein." Then we used to jog together. 
If 1 slackened to watch the small balloons of steam emerging 
from my mouth in the January mist, Sandow would urge: "Run 
harder, be big." 

As solitude spread like smouldering chaff inside the craft i 
remarked merely to break silence: "Bakunin, was your father a 
Party member?" 

"No. My father was a poor violinist in the Leningrad Philhar- 
monic Orchestra. One day the Secret Police took him away." 

"What crime did your father commit?" 

"Crime? In Stalin's time you don't have to be a criminal to 
be picked up. As if there was clandestine anti-party group in the 
Orchestra. I was six when they took father away. My mother 
went out of mind when she found out a couple of months later 
that father was dead. From that day I wanted to escape earth, i 
became a pilot, to live in the skies," Laughing mirthlessly, Bakunin 
went on: "Govindankutty, it seem that my wish has come true. 
It is unlikely that we will ever get out of this thing. For the rest 
our lives we can live in the skies." 

When his words sank in I began to sweat with fright. First 
the solar panels will fail. Then chili pervades the craft. Even the 
creases on our corpses' faces will be etched for ever. In freezing 
temperature, mummies, Bakunin and me, shall eternally orbit 
the earth. 

Bakunin stood before the microphone. This time he looked 
as if he had made up his mind. "This is Radio Soyuz 24. You 
are listening to the first broadcast of Radio Soyuz 24." 

Bakunin looked across and asked me in a low voice: "Can 
you sing a song, Govindankutty?" 

1 nodded, glad to be doing something. Bakunin said into 
the microphone, "first a Hindi song by Govindankutty." 

Saare jehaan se acha 
Hindustan hamaara hamaara ... 

Of all the worlds our India is the best ... After three months 

118/lNniAN LITERATURE ; 155 

in the space that song was turning into my life's credo. 1 saw 
through the porthole, sunsets on the horizon, near Hashimara 
Air Force Station, where tea gardens ended. Hum bulbule hein 
iske/ye gulistaan hamaara hamaara ... We are the singing birds 
of this garden of ours ... I sang, rubbing shoulders with the 
comrades of Payyallur who were taking out a procession, shout- 
ing slogans in praise of the Party leaders. The seminal smell of 
freshly tapped palm toddy permeated the craft. Those evenings 
at Coimbatore Air Base with friends, sipping palm toddy ... I felt 
relieved after the song was over. 

Aurora Mathai once said: "There is only one way to ward 
of madness in solitary confinement. Sing, or talk aloud." 

Father, Sandow Gopalan and Aurora had all been in solitary 
confinement. When the Party was banned in 1 948, after it adopt- 
ed the Calcutta Thesis, they went underground. A case was also 
registered against them for sheltering the accessed in Edappally 
Police Station Attack case. 

They hid in attics of houses, bath-houses, hovels of Pulayas 
and thatches of boats. Living in hiding did nothing to their minds; 
it affected their skin, though. Most of the comrades broke out in 
eczema. On the mats in the hide-outs, they tossed and turned 
in half-sleep, leaving behind scabs and pus from their sores. Next 
day another bunch of comrades slept on the same mats. Eczema 
spread throughout the Movement. Father was caught when he, 
unable to endure the itching any longer, moved in with a sym- 
pathetic herbal doctor. Two days later, the Police bought in 
Sandow Gopalan and Aurora Mathai who was carrying on his 
head the litho-press used for printing his evening paper from the 
underground. By then. Magician Vijayan had already fled to 

The police had vowed to crack Gopalan. Inspector Pappaly 
("for thrashing suspects there was no one to beat Pappaly", said 
people of the erstwhile Cochin state) would pick one by one of 
Sandow's muscles and thoroughly beat up. Sandow on his part 
would hold his breath to harden the muscles. Pappaly grew des- 
perate. Fie began whipping Sandow with the tail of a rayfish spe- 
cially ordered by him from the fishermen of Vyppeen. Pappaly's 
litany would raise: "This for Constable Velayudhan your men 

N.S. madhavan/1 1 9 

killed at Edappally Police Station. This for Constable Mathew 

“Hey, you, tell me where the Edappally killer K.C. Mathew 
is?" Pappaly pulled the waist-cord of Sandow's drawers. "Tell 
me where killer Varuthunni Is?” Pappaly then discovered a rolled 
paper in the hem of the drawers. 

“Is this the secret of your strength?” Pappaly asked, crumpl- 
ing the picture of Stalin he found and flinging it into a corner of 
the room. Then he began to run a roller over the naked Sandow. 
Sandow leapt up throwing off the police men who were pinning 
him down. He yelled in Tamil; "Therefore the working class will 
never be destroyed. United, they will advance more than ever 
before. Red Salute to martyrs.” Pappaly didn't understand what 
Sandow was saying. For a moment, he stood perplexed. 

"Sandow was quoting from the cenotaph to the Martyrs at 
Golden Rock Railway Colony at Tiruchirappally." Father 
explained to me. "A Superintendent of Police of Tiruchi, Harri- 
son, killed several railway wrokers, to break their strike. 
Remember Ananthan Nambiar we visited on our way to Madurai? 
He was their leader.” 

Pappaly recovered to strike again. Sandow threatened: 
“Pappaly, I'll kill you the way Comrade Ananthan Nambiar killed 
the White Man Harrison.” 

Pappaly stopped. He knew that of all the deaths the worst 
was the one dealt by Ananthan Nambiar to Harrison. Harrison 
left Ananthan Nambiar for dead after he collapsed from severe 
beating. A superstition that one should not open fire on a corpse 
saved Ananthan Nambiar from the White Man's pistol. Few days 
later Harrison found Ananthan Nambiar standing outside his win- 
dow. Another day, when his snow-white stallion, tethered in the 
yard, changed into Ananthan Nambiar, Harrison shot at it. The 
horse reared up with a neigh and fell down, blood gushing out 
of his breast and a red flag fluttering in Ananthan Nambiar's hand. 

Nambiar stalked Harrison even to the bathroom. When he 
stood before the mirror, he saw his image fading out with a dance 
to reemerge as Ananthan Nambiar. After that to destroy his enemy 
was easy. Harrison committed suicide. 

Before long. Father Aurora and Sandow were transferred to 
Viyyur Jail. In windowless cells, they spent several weeks in 

120/INDIAN literature : 155 

solitary confinement — unable to tell day from night; in eternal 
twilight. Madness seeped into the cells, irresistably like deluvian 
waters. The Party, send a message through a warder: "Don't 
keep quite. Talk to yourself loudly. A trick told to us by our 
leader A.K.G." 

"Tra lala tra lala," Bakunin was conducting an invisible 
orchestra, standing before the microphone, waving his hands in 
the air and singing aloud. 

"Do you know which Symphony this is, Govindankutty?" 


The Seventh Symphony of Shostakovich. He composed this 
during the 900-day Nazi seige of Leningrad." 

The seige of Leningrad still evoked ardour in Father and 
other comrades of Payyallur. Whenever I came home on leave 
during training, they gathered around me to hear about life in 
the Soviet Union. Last time I went home, I said to them, "now 
in the Soviet Union Stalin is as hated as Hitler." 

"Has this man conducted an opinion poll in the whole of 
Soviet Union?" asked Rajendran, the Area Committe Secretary, 

What's the use of snapping at him? Blame him, that 
Khrushchev. He started all this." Aurora Mathai said. 

Father stood up and began to speak in an oratorial tone: 

Who held out for 900 days when the Nazis were set to capture 
Leningrad? Stalin. Who in '42 engaged the Nazis in Stalingrad 
razed to nought by the German bombs; fighting them man to 
man, in trenches, in sewers and on roof-tops? Stalin. Who made 
General Zhukov kill two hundred thousand Germans, recapture 
Stalingrad and win the Second World War? Stalin." 

And despite all this, some people blame Stalin, Aurora 
Mathai added. "Tell me, if Stalin's Five Year Plans had not made 
the Soviet Union what it is, would this lad, Govindankutty from 
Payyallur, ever go to the Space?" 

\A/- ^ posters began to multiply at processions in Payyallur. 

With the immutability of a mathematical formula, devised by 
Father and his companions, the comrades of Payyallur carried 
rnore pictures of Stalin in their processions: For every five Stalins 
three Lenins, and for every three Lenins two Marxs, and for every 


two Marxs one Engejs. 

When Bakunin's silence lengthened unbearably, I asked 
him: "What happened to the Seventh Symphony of Shos- 

"Govindankutty," his voice faltered. "My father was among 
those who performed the Symphony for the first time. By then, 
half the population of Leningrad had perished — with no bread 
to eat; no coal to warm. The dead included my grandfather and 
my father's elder brother. The Symphony kept my father going. 
Finally, father and other violinists lined up in the unheated Philhar- 
monica hall, in thick woolens, their bodies close-pressed for 
warmth. They clutched the violin bows, with their gloved fingers, 
not letting them slip even once, and played the Symphony. The 
entire city listened; they needed to. When the Germans in the 
trenches heard the broadcast over the local radio it dawned upon 
them their seige was doomed. 

Bakunin fell silent again. I guessed that he may be thinking 
about his father and colleagues, men of determination, but 
herded off and murdered by the Secret Police. I glanced at his 
face. It looked as if he is going to cry. But instead he went through 
the entire Symphony, with renewed vigour, humming different 

When Symphony was over the radio receiver suddenly came 
alive. We heard someone clapping. 

"Calling Control. This is Soyuz," Bakunin said. 

"What Soyuz?" A girl asked in Russian. 

"Soyuz 24 of the Soviet Union." 

"Soviet Union. It is withering away. Now we have a bunch 
of republics. Let that be. Now, what is your name?" 

"Captain Igor Bakunin." 

We heard fingers punching a computer. "There is no such 
name in the computer. Where are you from?" 


The girl laughed. She said: "There is no such city either. 
Major Sobchek changed its name. Now it is St. Petersberg." 

"We want to. return to earth." 

"You are the liability of the Soviet Union. Whether or not 
the republics should take on it will be decided by the parliaments 

122/indian literature : 155 

of the republics. And what do you mean, 'we'?'' 

"There is an Indian with me. A symbol of friendship between 
Soviet Union and the Third World." 

"The republics cannot take on the international obligations 

of the Soviet Union, either." 

"Tell us, what shall we do now to come down to earth." 

"A lost property office has just been opened at the United 
Nations. 1 shall register your name there. Perhaps someone may 
claim you," the girl burst out laughing. 

I was standing looking through the porthole. Chunks of the 
Milky Way swirled into snow-white stallions, Ananthan Nambiars 
and violinists of Leningrad Orchestra. The girl's laughter did not 
stop. Suddenly, I became Bakunin, his history, my own wounds. 
Shoving Bakunin aside, I stood in front of the microphone. At 
first I felt such stage fright I could say nothing. Then I shouted 
out the words which came rushing — in Tamil: "Therefore the 
working class will never be destroyed. United, they will advance 
more than ever before. Red Salute to Martyrs." 

Sound of a frightened girl snapping shut the microphone 
echoed through the spacecraft. 

Bakunin began to put on his space-walk suit. He walked 
towards the door. 

"Here I go, Govindankutty," Bakunin said over the small 
mike inside his helmet. He opened the door and swam out. 
Metallic cable connecting him to the craft grew taut. 

I went to the door. Outside the solar panels of the spacecraft 
were spread like primaeval wings of a pterodactyl. Bakunin was 
aboutto unhook the latch of the cable and plunge himself free. 

"Bakunin, what will happen to me, this Third World, if you 


"Are you asking me this question, to this Fourth World, 
Govindankutty?" 1 saw through the visor of the helmet a flicker 
of a smile in his moist eyes. 

Bakunin unfastened the latch and surged. He floated away; 
his jagged route making sentences in Russian. When sawtoothed 
cyrillic letters ended, Bakunin rested his chin on his knees and 
began making his orbit in a linear path. 

Translated from Malayalam 
fay A.J. Thomas 



M oonlit nights are surely a reality even in these times. 

Scattering spangles of intoxication among the wakeful 
beings; some human beings filling themselves with it like the 
fabulous Chinese jars ... No. In my case, nothing of the sort 
happened. I was in conversation with a friend, full of levity and 
with the equanimity of an ordinary human being. The place must 
have been the portico of his house. 

This friend with a moonface and a handsome body is a TV 
repairer. Except for a clandestine infatuation with music, the 
other surgings of the soul are alien to him. Literature, the graphic 
arts, politics etc., would never peep into his thinking. Though 
knowing full well that straight paths are seldom found in this 
world, he was never worried about it. He lived as though there 
was no one to spread thorns in his path. The flow of this faith 
enveloped all his actions like the morning sun. "A man full of 
grace,” I used to call him inwardly. 

It was an exceptionally moonlit night. Although out of con- 
text, 1 tend to remember something. It was not many days since 
I was elected to the District Council. I had just managed to serape 
through with a margin of sixteen votes in a stiff contest. 1 was 
relieved, and he was jubilant that I won. We talked for a long 
time about many ordinary and trivial matters. All that time his 
sister was sitting next to us in a cane chair, reading a book of 

My friend and I are aged around thirty-five. His sister is past 

thirty. She is the wife of a bank employee and the mother of two 
children. However, it was as a young girl in a light coloured top 
garment and in a white miniskirt with small saffron flower printed 
on it, that 1 saw her now beside us. Her countenance, though 
grave, was serene and pretty. Once upon a time 1 had loved this 
girl furtively and had somehow managed to utter one or two 
words smacking of this love. 

When the conversation between my friend and 1 reached a 
juncture where it remained sluggish, she stopped reading, stood 
up and started singing an ancient Chinese Song in a most dulcet 
voice. That song was filled with the heartaches of a young woman 
called Inging who had loved a hunter named Wangchou, without 
his knowledge. When the song was over I stood up and congratu- 
lated her very formally. Then t told my friend and her together, 

N. prabhakaran/125 

"1 am going now. See you two months later." 

"Two months! It is good that one can forget a politician at 
least for two months a year/' she said. 1 should have been pained. 
But it did not happen that way. I laughed aloud as if 1 had heard 
a joke. Then 1 got out and walked away. 

I was to pass through an alley that was clean and tidy. High 
ranking officials, and rich merchants resided on either side. While 
walking, ! happened to think for a moment about that song. 
None of us knew the Chinese language. Then how could she 
sing that song? How did 1 grasp its meaning? How could 1 vis- 
ualise, with the mind's eye, an orchard of the Fukian region while 
I was listening to that song? It is all so very strange. I can say for 
sure that I am not dreaming at all. It is not likely that such a 
logical strain can be there while dreaming. 

I stood still for a moment with a firm resolve to get my doubts 
cleared. It was in a strange tremulousness of the soul that i moved 
forward after that. Walking some distance and turning a corner 
I found that the path had become very narrow. The wall on the 
left had been pushed forward a little. It was only two or three 
days since the wall had been rebuilt. The cold smell of the cement 
and mortar was still in the air. The plot beyond that wall belonged 
to Koneri Damu. It was Damu who had steered my election 
campaign, i had heard many things whispered against Damu 
who was a land broker. 1 was not at all interested in getting him 
as my Election Committee Chairman. But the party had decided 
it that way. Or it was thus that Damu made the party decide. 

Someone would complain to me about the encroachment 
of the public pathway one of these days. It is certain that 1 would 
necessarily have to have a confrontation with Damu. If presented 
in a straightforward manner, Damu will scoff at the matter. Subtle 
manoeuvres should be set in motion. Similar incidents will occur 
again if he is not subdued in time. Damu who was a nobody in 
the party and public life had grown to be a power centre in front 
of one's very eyes. Many are approaching him for favours. A 
group of acolytes has formed around Damu. Student activists, 
youth leaders, and even leaders of teachers' organisations are 
busy imitating him. Grooming their hair Damu style, laughing 
like him, hawking and spitting noisily like him ... From now on 

126 /indian literature •. iss 

these things cannot be allowed to go on this way. In my capacity 
as a Councillor, 1 can also do certain things. I can also look 
forward to the support of the idealists in the party. 

Ruminating on many things in this strain and turning many 
corners 1 reached in front of Kuppuswamy's Ashram. This ashram 
is one of the cornerstones of civic life in my Division. It is 
rumoured that while Kuppuswamy was still alive, several shady 
incidents including prostitution and murder had taken place in 
this ashram. Now the head of this ashram is Yoginiamma who 
was one of Kuppuswamy's old handmaids. She may have a name 
of her own. But everyone calls her "Yoginiamma." 

1 had gone to the ashram to meet this woman along with 
Damu. I had wished to avoid such an audience with her. Damu 
had not budged. "You ask me whether you should meet her? 
Any doubts about that? There are three hundred and twenty 
seven votes in that woman's hand. That is not a trifle as far as 
this Division is concerned. If you go and bow your head once 
before her, she will bless you. Just now they have a notion that 
we will win. The ashram's politics is to stand firm with the winners. 
If we do not meet them, they will act in a vengeful manner." 

I do not know whether Yoginiamma helped us or not. Any- 
how, she had treated us with great affection when we visited 
her. When that woman, clad in a saffron sari and reclining in an 
easy chair, had raised her withered hand above my head in 
benediciton, I had felt a sensation of fear for some reason. 

But now she is clad in gold-bordered long cloth and upper 
cloth and is strolling among the flowering plants in the garden 
in the courtyard of the ashram, with the sprightliness of a 
Thiruvathira dancer. The middle-aged man who is walking 
behind her, chewing something like a bun is the ashram cook. 
That long-limbed man has now turned into a dwarf with a very 
long tail. I burst out laughing noticing the tail trailing behind on 
the ground. 

When I moved two or three steps forward after passing the 
main gate of the ashram, another wondrous thing caught my 
eye. The wall of the ashram had grown across the path, and had 
touched the wall opposite, blocking the alley. "It is sheer roguery; 
I am not going to allow this at any rate," I must have said such 

things to myself. My body must have quivered all over and 1 
must have gnashed my teeth- and the blood must have rushed 
to my eyes. When 1 lifted my head suddenly and looked up, it 
was Piandre 1 saw sitting on the wall, wearing a sports blazer 
and cowboy hat and smoking his pipe serenely. Piandre who is 
the agent of an arms manufacturing company in the States is a 
well known figure the world over. Although we had not met 
each other before, Piandre smiled at me as at a friend of longstand- 
ing. For my part, 1 felt like talking to him about some profound 
topic. "Poetry is pain; it is an all-consuming thirst; it is a fireflower 
that blooms in the dark valleys of solitude," I said that much In 
one breath. Piandre nodded his head in agreement to all that. 
Then he proffered his hand in perfect amity. Hanging on to that 
sturdy hand and lifted high in the air, 1 fell at the other side of 
the wall and was filled with glee beyond limits. Whose hand did 
1 catch hold of? Who lifted me off the ground with a single hand? 
How did 1 merit such luck? 

128/iNDIAN literature : 155 

For what a length of time did 1 stand transfixed on the path 
beyond the ashram, immersed in the headiness of blissful obliv- 
ion! The first thing that caught my eye after I resumed walking 
was an extensive coconut grove. Thousands of coconut palms 
laden with coconuts growing luxuriantly. At a single glance one 
can see that they are the high-yielding type. I somehow felt that 
1 should get hold of that grove by any means. 1 should continue 
in politics for five or six years more. Then I should put an end 
to all that and come and stay here with rny family. Money for 
the asking; serenity as much as you want; then the much cele- 
brated existence in perpetual communion with nature. At last here 
is a way to reach the fullness of life. For the time being some 
funds should be organised to make some token advanced pay- 
ment for this coconut grove. That is easily managed if Piandre 
would give a thought to it. 

Koneri Damu himself should be the agent. There is not 
another man as experienced as Damu in land deals to my knowl- 
edge. Let us forget for the time being that he had moved his 
wall far out into the public road. If there is any allegation arising 
against him in the party, that can be silenced in an appropriate 
manner. It is always better now a days to be friendly with every 
one. Even Gorbachev, who is so very diligent and wordly-wise 
than 1 am, is thinking in these lines. Maturity and equanimity are 
important above anything else. All the rest will automatically 
follow. 1 have learned some such things in the meanwhile. If I 
put my mind to it sufficiently, 1 can go forward with confidence. 
Yes, here I am, reaching the threshold of success in life. All 
circumstances are in my favour. Nothing is likely to go away. A 
careful step ... just a single step! 

Perhaps because of the inordinate excitement, both my eyes 
were shut tight a!l of a sudden. When 1 somehow forced them 
open, it was my friend's sister who 1 saw right in front of me. 
She came running and caught ho!d of both my hands. She kissed 
all over my hands. Then, leaning on to my shoulder she told 
me, "You should not have forgotten me; you should not have 
hidden your love." Seeing her public exhibition of love or hearing 
her words, 1 am not sure which young men sitting on the platform 
under the banyan tree laughed aloud. "What a savage thing to 

N. prabhakaran/1 29 

do,” their facial expression seemed to say. The group consisted 
of youths ranging from workers of a communal party having roots 
only in my Division, to some extremists. Their sarcasm was 
beyond the limits of my endurance. I was engrossed by an intense 
desire to save my face somehow. I was in a hurry to demonstrate 
that i had no part whatever in this love affair. "Hey! What non- 
sense is this!” 1 pushed her aside with theatrical movements and 
surged forward. But, 1 faltered in my very first step. 1 slipped and 
fell into a deep chasm. 

1 must have lain unconscious for quite some time. When 1 
opened my eyes and looked around, it was a green grassy 
expanse that I saw. Her words had enveloped me like a mellow 
light and like the fragrant air from a distant valley. 

i do not know when, but f saw a man dressed in a long 
flowing Arabian gown and a gold-laced head-dress moving a 

130/INDIAN literature : 155 

little far off. There was a big water melon in his hand. He was 
moving forward in a very leisurely manner, tossing the melon 
high in the air every now and then and again catching it in the 
palm of one hand. When 1 ran up and reached his side, he 
wheeled round abruptly to face me. His hairless face, though 
pleasant, was quite pale. "Where are you going? Where are 
we?" 1 asked him in some perplexity. 

"You started off from the world of the dead. Although you 
went astray in between, you are now back in the same world." 
Saying this much he handed over the water melon to me, walked 
away and disappeared from sight. 

Again I was alone. The primordial sky and the boundless 
expense of green, this water melon and I. Enough, it is enough 
now. There is no meaning in my-going any further with this story. 

There is no golden seed or some other wonders in this water 
melon in-my hand. Only the red flesh and faintly sweet juice that 
quench thirst, revive and give one the joy of life for at least a 
little while. Only one thing I am able to say. It had grown hugging 
the earth learning the secrets of the sweetness under the soil. I 
hope that there would be at least one reader who followed me 
all this way up. I give it to him. 

Translated from Malat^alam 
by A.J. Thomas 



I T is an inscrutable perception. 

Even now, I am perturbed when 1 run my fingers over this 
scar. The black figure leaping up from the darkness. When it runs 
out, a swarm of bats clamour about flapping their wings. 

Was it the scar of the bite of a vampire bat, as mother used 
to say till her death? 

Is one of the bat's teeth still embedded inside the scar? 

I have not solved this puzzle even after two decades. When 
I string memories together what results is a circle with complex 
geometrical patterns. The burned out wicks, red hibiscus and 
cock's blood that have fallen into its colours. My head reels as 
the circle begins to swirl. 

These are all that my childhood has left in me. Why had 
my childhood become like this? I am unloading these recollec- 
tions on to words for easing my mind a little. Let them rest on 
the pack-rack of words for the rest of the time. 

These recollections begin from the early days of a summer 
vacation. Two decades have not left many scar on my memory. 

1 can write down everything without much indistinctness. It was 
before the crack of dawn that 1 had got out of the Railway quarters 
holding on to my father's hand. The bus journey had ended 
before the sun was up. Father told me about that tharavadu as 
we were walking along an alleyway with bamboo thickets on 
either side. About Bhadroppol waiting for me there. About a 
granny who knew a lot of stories and Neelandan who tended 

132/INDIAN literature : 155 

the buffaloes. Father told me I had gone there sometime when 
1 was a two-year-old. 

The alley ended in front of a bamboo wicket-gate. 

The woman leaning against the gate-post had already seen 
us from the distance. She lifted me over the bamboo-bars. "You 
have grown up, Kunchu. Did you forget Bhadroppol? What a 
pose, as you started going to school!" 

I tried to wriggle out. But she kept me close to that fleshiness. 

She did not give me over to anyone that day. Not even let 
me sleep together with father. She lay with me in the southern 
wing of the house. Kissed me a lot. As I lay with my face pressed 
against her chest. 1 breathed many a fragrance unknown to me 
until then. Those fragrance linger still in my nostrils. It is some 
other sensations that they now arouse in me. I go opening up 

p. surendran/133 

door after door seeking their source. The doors never end. 

Bhadroppol lay with me only that night. Father returned 
home the next day. Bhadroppol gave me over to granny's yarns 
and Neeiandan's heroic tales. It was near granny that 1 was lain 

In fact, the unmarried Bhadroppol's bedroom was not in 
the southi-wing on the ground floor, but in the attic. But 1 had 
not gone up there climbing the stairs. 1 had restrictions. Bhadrop- 
pol would go up to the attic-room, after, making the bed for 
granny and 1. I would stand watching as she ascended the stairs 
with a kerosene lamp and brass vessel full of water. 

! would simply hope she would invite me upstairs. But, it 
never happened. On reaching the last step, she would call out ; 

"Don't forget granny's tales, Kunchu. You should tell them 
to Bhadroppol tomorrow." 

The attic room began distressing me as a puzzle. Many a 
time 1 couldn't listen to granny's tales. 

On many occasions 1 had stood at the stair-landing, looking 
up. Pricking up my ears for the wing-flaps of a gigantic vampire 
bat ... Not daring to climb even a single step. 

It was Bhadropo! who told me about that vampire bat. That 
vampire bat was the answer to the question. What if I climbed 
the stairs. Another day when 1 asked Neelandan about this, he 
also frightened me mentioning about the vampire bat, 

"Then how does Bhadroppol sleep alone in the attic room?" 

Neelandan laughed loud. 

"Kunchan will understand everything. When you come of 

Granny on her part never gave an answer to this question. 
Each time I questioned her, she told me a different story. She 
was like that, anyway. Her answers were never to the point. 

Perhaps, I now feel, the answer would have been there in 
what she said. As my consciousness is a vessel with a broken 
base, everything must have leaked out. It was as the sentinel of 
an ancient castle that 1 considered her later on. Opened up and 
showed different ceils in reply to each question. She knew her 

The outside world was not a house with restrictions. I could 

go any time to that area beyond the courtyard overgrown with 
thickets. Many a time, tracking squirrels and birds, I got entangled 
in .the bramble. 

It was to follow Neelandan who was driving the buffaloes 
that I liked most of all. Now I understand that his vision and 
perceptions should have been very subtle. The eggs of the garden 
lizards ... Copulating rat snakes ... The jackals in litter ... it was 
Neelandan who showed me all. 

We would always reach near the stream, parting the creep- 
ers. He would become silent once we reached there. He would 
signal to me not to make any noise. My recollections of that 
stream is a blue-tinted dream today. It was in that stream that I 
saw the naked body of a woman for the first time ever. 

Bhadroppol used to bathe in the afternoons. She would take 

p. surendran/135 

me also along. A third person never ventured in. She would 
stand in the middle of the stream covering her nakedness only 
with her dense tresses. She would look towards the honeysuckle 
shrub beyond the stream and laugh, and emit funny noises. As 
if there was somebody in the thickets! 

Now I believe that there was someone in there who was 
unable to be detected by the eyes of the childhood. Sometimes 
she would laugh uproariously and whirl about. She would churn 
up the stream beating about, swinging her hands. I used to watch 
without uttering a single word. 

She who dipped herself in the stream on a Friday took a 
very long time to surface. Her hair began to float upwards and 
spread over the sun-dappled surface on the stream. Spreading 
and' spreading, it filled the stream. As if a gigantic tarantula had 
overshadowed the stream. 

Could it be the octopus? 

1 remembered granny saying that, at noontime on Fridays, 
demons would revel about in the stream as octopuses. 

Has the octopus swallowed up Bhadroppol? 

"Bhadroppol, Oh, Bhadroppol," 1 called out, struggling to 
smother a sob. 

Then she burst forth as laughter. The wet body blazed in 
the sun. 1 felt that it \vas not Bhadroppol. 

Coming up from the netherworld ... 1 closed my eyes. 

Even now that memory comes in as a horror. Then, when 
each naked organ fills the mind minutely, the horror will gradually 
turn into a heady dream. 

I have also seen the blood-bespattered fierce face of Bhad- 
roppol once. 

One evening it was decided that a chicken should be cut. 
Bhadroppol said that i should not see the killing of the chicken. 
Nevertheless, I peeped and saw everything. 

That blood-sacrifice was performed behind the courtyard. 

It was Neelandan who held the chicken. And Bhadroppol cut 
its gullet! As soon as the knife cut through the throat, blood 
spurted out. Blood-drops smeared all over her face and blouse 
... That face was horrendous then. She collected all the blood 
that flowed out of its throat into a pewter basin. 1 peeked and 

136/INDIAN literature : 155 

saw her going up the stairs with that blood. It was that blood 
which aroused an interest in me to go up the stairs. 1 wanted to 
know where it was taken to. 

It was that chicken-blood that was in my mind when 1 sat 
down to dinner. I looked at Bhadroppol's face as she ladled out 
steaming chicken curry. 1 imagined that blood-boils were still 
there on her face. 

"Why are you looking at me like that, Kunchu?" 



1 pointed my finger to her face. Bhardroppol burst out laugh- 
ing. I rose and ran without eating. While lying down to sleep, 1 
asked granny. 

"What is chicken-blood for, granny?" 

Granny started telling a tale. As she began the narration 
about an arch-sorcerer who cut chicken at midnight and drank 
the blood, it was Bhadroppol who emerged in my mind, climbing 
the stairs with the blood in the pewter-basin. 

Would Bhadroppol drink that blood at midnight? 

When granny slept, I got out of bed. I stood still at the 
staircase landing for a little while. Then 1 started climbing the 

Fumbling through the dark, I pressed my hand against a 
door and instantly it screeched open. Inside, the light of a 
kerosene lamp went out. I saw only a black figure leaping up. I 
must have caught hold of its body. Its teeth were buried below 
my left eye. It broke loose from my grasp and ran off. A flock of 
bats began to fly in circles above my head. 

As the cry was about to get out my throat, 1 was caught fast 
in the entwining arms of naked Bhadroppol! My lips pressed 
against her breast, the cry was caught in my throat. 

"Oh, my God! The vampire bat has bitten my Kunchu." 

Then, the only thing I remember was her lips pressed below 
my left eye. 

When 1 came to, I was laid up feverish. I sensed the wound 
that was there, below my left eye. Bhadroppol was beside me 
shedding tears. Above my head, Neelandan's panic-stricken face. 

"Is the wound causing pain, Kunchu?" 

p. surendran/1 37 

"H'mmm ... " 

"Do you remember the vampire bat biting you?" 

i nodded. 

"Did you see the vampire bat?" 

I shook my head. 

i then looked into Neelandan's eyes. As 1 stared, a black 
form appeared there. It was rushing towards me as a gigantic 
vampire bat. Pointing my finger at his face, 1 said. 

"Therel The vampire bat comes." 

Neelandan stepped back. I closed my eyes. 

Lying in delirium my memory must have been lost again. 
Because, when 1 came to again, I was in the hospital. I had gone 
about, with that wound festering for months. The pain of the 
wound was bearable, but I could never endure the stench of the 
puss that flowed out sometimes. On all such occasions, 1 would 
be down with fever and cry out in nightmares. 

How many rituals of exorcism! How many cock's heads fell 
severed in the complex circles of lines and colours. At last, it 
was the talisman Bhadroppol sent that came to my rescue. 
Blood-sacrifices ended with that. 

It was only the members of my family who got some peace 
of mind, ever since that talisman was tied around my waist. I 
am undergoing the affliction of the small-pox that had withdrawn 
inwards, without bursting out as pustules. 

It would have been better to have nightmares and then 
babble gibberish in delirium, taking the weight off the mind. The 
talisman at the waist is also a complex circle of lines. 1 only can 
see myself wriggling caught in it, like a headless cock. 

1 wish to snap it off. When the fingers touch the talisman, 
the wail of a helpless woman rises. Do not throw me away ... 
do not throw me away ... please. Exhausted, 1 withdraw my 

Translated from Malaya/am 
by A.J. Thomas 



I am Elsheba, daughter of Peter. It was not to my father that the 
^ ''^ou are Peter the Rock, and on this rock I 

will build my church. Yet my father did contribute in the simplest 
manner to the building of the church. Contributed his eldest 
aug ter Deenamma. It was when my mother's grief- — why don't 
you ever think of our daughter who is full-grown and marriage- 

^ ^ burned and burned and went 

up m flarnes and ultimately began to die down in curses that 
father made Deenamma the Lord's bride. And he went into a 
swagpr, snapping his little finger on the right hand high up in 
the air and belching out a vulgar smile to mother's face. At his 
3s e went out to the arrack shop for celebrating his victory, 

u ' contempt, she drew the ques- 

tion— why the hell did you get married and make children?— out 
roug er ginding teeth and stabbed him with it. And she could 

beating, beating her chest saying after 
the third girl was born, though the baby died, it was good that 
ther got a village physician whose prescription, holy ash mixed 

^^rther pregnancies. 

nvpr rh showered fire and sulphur 

ZLJ s^'^ed me was not the word but a 

vpnt I stepped inside the huge walls of the con- 

whitP tell her about the job. Deenechi in 

death a rt paler. All her dreams had drowned to 

SpH T her big black eyes. And my eyes 

p, in mg of Deenechi's fate — Deenechi who was 

gracy/1 39 

much, much prettier than me. Deenechi, walking in through 
waves of tears, touched me. Her fingers were cold like those of 
the dead. Blood froze in my veins. And my childhood stammer 
came back. By the time 1 muttered, Deenechi, I've got a job, 1 
had tumbled down into words. 

Deenechi smiled. The sadness in her smile pierced my heart 
like a dagger of snow. As Deenechi heaved a deep sigh saying 
at least you have been saved, I fled, maddened. Fiercely pushing 
open the door and aiming to rush into the street, I turned and 
looked back for a moment, as though someone had pulled me 
back. On the verandah Deenachi had frozen into a salt pillar. 

Taking out an old air-bag and dusting it, I declared; Now 
for me my own path. 

I saw father's fingers, loosening the purse strings, trembling, 
trembling and finally turning immobile, and 1 saw mother's smoky 
eyes writing atop the pin-head of loneliness. And I stepped out 
of home, sweeping aside all sights with the back of my hand. 

My colleague at the office introduced herself as Mridula. I 
felt terribly angry when she said, worshipfully stroking the amulet 
she wore round her neck, that her father had lovingly given her 
that name because her heart was so tender. She went on to 
explain that he was a virtuous man full of love and affection. My 
heart began to burn with jealousy as she rambled on, saying it 
was her father who used to bathe her in the childhood, rub her 
head vigorously after applying rasnadi choornam*, and brush 
and plait her hair and deck it with jasmine flowers. By declaring 
that she had not really wanted to grow up and that given a 
chance she would like to go back to her childhood, she stripped 
me of my privacy in the manner of underclothes. 

As I walk along the street 1 pick up one of those who are 
walking ahead of me. 1 plant my right foot where he has planted 
his. And my left foot where he has planted his. Invariably, I begin 
this game by putting my right foot forward. And the game picks 
up pace and turns grave. Thus, precisely following his footsteps 
and forgetting everything else, ! climb down the stairs of my 
childhood innocence. There, Deenachi and 1, completely setting 

An ayurvedic powder that cures common cold, fever etc. 


aside the tuture, play at Kotthankallu or Kilitthathu. * Or, Deenechi 
hitches up her knee-length skirt, feigns lighting a piece of com- 
munist green,** and smokes. I seat a little coconut-baby on my 
waist and, wearing a towel like a half-saree, become a wife and 
a mother. And in our baby house hanging on top of the sky, far, 
far from this world, an unearthly radiance spreads. 

Amidst this great journey, I once followed a middle-aged 
man and reached in front of his house. As the footsteps disap- 
peared inside, somebody slammed the door at my dazed face. 
1 turned back, hiding my embarrassment in a thin smile. 

Anyhow, after Mridula talked to me, I could no longer follow 

* Village games. 

** A kind of weed — so called in Kerala, probably because it spreads 
very fast! 


anyone's footsteps on my way from the hostel to the office. On 
the contrary I went past them in great determination and hurry. 
The moment I reached the office and collapsed in my seat sweat- 
ing the panting, I began to burn, burn from tip to toe. And in 
this burning, 1 heard the thunderbolt of a change. 1 jabbed vio- 
lently, ven^efully, at the typewriter keys. 

All on a sudden Mridula got married. She came back to the 
office after a month's leave. Her eyes were full of sleepless nights. 
Her lips weary of the fullness of joy. And her curves enveloped 
in an idle indolence. At times her right breast jumped out from 
behind her saree and, in the temptation of a newly acquired 
fullness, trapped the eyes of both men and women. Then I felt 
increasingly ashamed of my own flat and insignificant chest. And 
1 began to take special care in packing it up in a heavy cotton 
saree so that nobody would notice it. 

I was relieved to find Mridula refusing to speak much to 
anyone. But, after four or five days, words came out of her mouth 
like a character who happens to bump into the stage. And a host 
of words came roaring, roaring. And they went round me, peck- 
ing and tearing at me. Mridula had uprooted her father-idol and 
installed the husband there — seeing which I smiled bitterly. The 
intensity of his love for her and their bedroom secrets singed me. 
And thus in my nights the springs of sleep withdrew into the 
depths. As soon as I closed my eyes, a , loveless drunkard of a 
husband with swollen eyes and stricky words of abuse came 
crashing in on me from the invisible plains of future. Every morn- 
ing the weight, the burden, on my chest kept increasing. At least 
1 decided to consult a doctor, a specialist. 

The doctor was a black bull. His round eyes, narrow 
forehead and bushy hair reminded me of a bison. By the time 1 
began to subject him to a close scrutiny, he had pressed his steth 
firm against my chest. I took a few deep breaths. The examination 
over, his head began to swing like a pendulum. Then, issuing a 
groan and a hem, he spoke in an uncharacteristic birdvoice: In 
place of the heart you have a rock. And it's growing harder. 

1 couldn't get shocked. I had begun to forget how to get 
shocked. He continued, staring at my dry, shrivelled breasts: 
The last drops of tenderness in you are drying up. 

142/iNDIAN literature : 155 

As I came out of the clinic unmoved, I realised that this was 
an appendix to the scripture. Out in the scorching sun, 1 raised 
my face to the sky. What do you intend to build on this rock? 
In reply, a darkness filled my eyes. 

Translated from Ma/aya/am 
fay V.C. Harris 

142/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 155 

As 1 came out of the clinic unmoved, 1 realised that this was 
an appendix to the scripture. Out in the scorching sun, I raised 
my face to the sky. What do you intend to build on this rock? 
In reply, a darkness filled my eyes. 

Translated from Mala}jalam 
by V.C. Harris 




K AMALA Das is not the secluded ivory tower artist that some of 
her writings might lead one to take her to be. She is a keen 
observer of the world around her, and is quite alive to the socio- 
political issues of the day. Her enthusiasm for social work, though 
a little dampened by the recent bereavement caused by her 
husband's death, has added a new dimension to her creative 
personality. She was yet to recover fully from her grief when I 
met her at her Trivandrum residence on 5 September 1992. She 
had just returned from Jamaica where she had gone to attend 
the ACLALS Conference. In this interview we talked about a wide 
variety of topics ranging from her poetry and fiction to her political 
views. The Malayalam poet D. Vinayachandran, who accom- 
panied me, was present throughout the interview. The poet Bala- 
mani Amma, Kamala Das's mother, sat through part of it. The 
interview, conducted largely in English, was punctuated by occa- 
sional responses in Malayalam. The following text was prepared 
from the tape-recorded interview that remained incomplete on 
the first day, picked up and completed the following day. Sherine 
Upot rendered help in transcribing the interview. Asteriks indicate 
answers given in Malayalam. 

P.P.R. : What have you been writing recently? Anything you 

P.P. Raveendran Consider really significant? 

146/iND(AN literature : 155 

K.D. : 

Kamala Das 

P.P.R. ; 

K.D. : 

P.P.R. ; 
K.D. : 
P.P.R. : 
K.D. ; 

P.P.R. ; 

K.D. : 

I have written poems during the past few months, 
but 1 find them to be df a lower standard. They are 
less spontaneous, and this is probably because 1 live 
here in Trivandrum where society has powerful inhi- 
bitions. I feel sometimes that I am like an Egyptian 
mummy all wrapped up in lint. It is very difficult 
here for one to feel the taste of freedom. The poetry I 
write here is a kind of inhibited poetry which 1 do not 
appreciate fully. And therefore when I write such 
a poem I leave it here unpublished, or destroy it. 

Still there must be a few that you would like to see 

There is some discovery which 1 made recently that 
while I live 1 cannot write and while I write 1 cannot 
live. Either live or write poetry. 1 cannot do both at 
the same time. There is no audience here for English 

But were the circumstances in which you wrote 
your early poetry totally different? 

Yes, 1 lived in cities then. 1 was forever meeting 
brilliant people. 

Can you remember the title of your first published 

I am sorry ! cannot. 1 started writing from my child- 
hood onwards trying to emulate my mother. But of 
course there are certain poems which are my 
favourites. One of them is "Composition" and this 
is the poem which 1 read everywhere. It is one of 
my earlier poems, but it is’ in my eyes near perfect. 

What changes do you as a writer realize to have 
happened to your poetry from poems like "Com- 
position" to some of your more recent pieces? 

The recent ones have been actually controlled by 
reason and logic. So certainly they suffered. They 
are just poetry written by a lady, and there is no 

p.p. raveendran/147 

flutter of the wings there. It is a caged bird singing 
its songs, if you cage a bird its music will not be as 
good as it was when it was free. 

P.P.R. : You often speak of yourself as a self-taught person. 

Do you think this has affected your writing in any 

K.D. : I think my talent has become a robust one only 

because others have not interfered with it. You see, 

1 can foresee many things, know many things with- 
out any one telling me. And as you say, for me 
there has been no teacher at all practically. Some 
people were sent in as tutors, but they came and 
went back because I slipped really in mathematics. 

I had the best tutors in Calcutta. My father could 
afford them. But they didn't help me. So 1 never 
got anything beyond twenty per cent in Arithmetic. 
Then I stopped studying, or rather, my father felt 
that I should stop studying and turn to marriage 
and domesticity. That was a great blessing, because 
1 think education is full of things that are of no use 
to you in your real life. Education dumps a lot of 
junk into the minds of people. It is difficult later to 
throw that junk out and become a clean person, i 
think I escaped all that, and this definitely has helped 
me as a writer. 

P.P.R. : You mentioned your difficulty with the audience 

for your poetry. Perhaps you know that you belong 
to the international group of trans-iingual writers 
like Milan Kundera, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o or Samuel 
Beckett who move from one language to another 
without difficulty. Can you be more specific about 
the problems you face with the English language? 

K.D. : I face problems quite naturally because my know- 

ledge of words is quite inadequate. But all the same, 
1 think 1 do a good job, considering how limited 
my vocabulary is in both the languages that I deal 

148/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 155 

P.P.R. ; 

K.D. : 
P.P.R. ; 

K.D. ; 
P.P.R. ; 

K.D. ; 


K.D. ; 

Does it mean you have similar problems with 
Malayalam too? 


In one of your oft-quoted poems you say that you 
speak three languages, write in two, dream in one. 
Which is the one language your dream in? Your 
mother-tongue, 1 suppose. 

I dream in English, I am afraid. 

Let me relate this interesting discovery to another 
question concerning identity. This is about the two 
names "Kamla Das" and "Madhavikutty" that you 
used for your English and Malayalam writings res- 
pectively. Again there are fellow-bilingual writers 
like Isak Dinesen and Fernando Pessoa who adopt 
similar ploys to keep their language identities sepa- 
rate. How would you respond to this? 

1 think 1 was compelled to choose a name because 
1 didn't want to embarrass my conservative family- 
1 knew that 1' was a misfit within my family. I think 
I practised writing as people practise a secret vice. 
Like boys going to the bathroom to smoke. Especial- 
ly, 1 didn't want to hurt my grandmother who was 
my favourite human being. And i don't think she 
knew that 1 was Madhavikutty till she died. 

Browsing through your collections of poetry one 
would notice a sudden shift from poems of the fifties 
depicting a lyrical, subjective experience to the 
poems of a more metaphysical kind of the sixties. 
Was there any objective reason for this shift? 

1 think I decided then to wear a disguise. That was 
why 1 shifted to poems that seemed metaphysical. 
Because many people used to advise me that I 
should write about the love between Radha and 
Krishna and escape criticism from people rather 
than write about my own affairs, if there were any. 

p.p. raveendran/1 49 

I would consider those poems to be the first steps 
1 took towards the safest area. Cowardice. The ear- 
lier poetry erupted like prickly heat. I had no control 
over the flow of words that came on propelled by 
certain emotions which at that time seemed so real, 
so vital, so important. 

P.P.R. : Talking of disguise, I see that some of the poems 

are used as epigraphs to My Story. Does this imply 
any kind of continuity between the two? 

K.D. : My Story was written with a purpose, and was 

prompted by somebody very close to me. 

P.P.R. : Similarly, some of the poems seem to be reworkings 

of short stories originally written in Malayatam. Or 
is it the other way around? 

K.D. ; There are so many complaints that I sell the same 
stuff as poetry, as story and as essay. But since I 
am the same person and have got to write of what 
happens to me I cannot help it. 1 can only write 
about my personal experiences, and being versatile, 
1 see poetry in an experience, and then see good 
prose coming out of the same experience. 1 just 
dabble in all these areas, that is all. 

P.P.R. ; Perhaps for a creative writer the critical distinctions 
between genres, between the novel and the short 
story and between the short story and poetry are 
of no consequence. Have you ever thought about 

K.D. ; Frankly, a writer deals with a world that is supposed 
to be real and then a world that is only a shadow 
of this real world. This second world could even 
be called an unreal world. But unless we live in 
these two worlds at the same time, simultaneously 
enjoying the fruits of each world, I do not think a 
writer can progress much. The strength that you 
get from this imaginary world, this shadowy world. 

150/INDIAN literature : 155 

P.P.R. ; 

K.D. : 

this dream world, can be utilised when working in 
the other world. You can add on to the experiences 
of the other world with this. It's like an alloy. Like 
adding alloy to make the metal strong. I think that's 
most necessary. Every writer will have a split person- 
ality. Every writer with talent is abnormal, because 
talent itself is an abnormality. Therefore when you 
try to measure a person who is abnormal with a 
measuring yard used for measuring a normal person 
you are being unfair to that talented person. A crea- 
tive person has more needs — more emotional 
needs than a well-adjusted person. If I feel that 
my life is inadequate in some areas, I try to fill 
that— I try to perfect my life by adding things which 
may not really have happened. But for me they are 
real— they have happened. That is why sitting here 
m this armchair I can still write of murders or of 
brothels. Many people come here and ask me 
whet^her I've ever been, to a brothel to write about 
brothels. My answer is no. One does not have to 
visit brothels to write about them. We often hear 
people talking about adding fantasy to reality. Real- 
ity IS very drab. It is as drab as white Khaddar. 

Perhaps you could explain this relationship between 
reality and fantasy with reference to some of your 
poems.^ The series of poems called the "Anamalai 
Roems ' for example. Could you tell us about the 
generative context of these poems? 

These poems were written at Anamalai. Frankly, 
ey were not written at all, but were leisurely spo- 
ken into a tape-recorder kept near my bed. I was 
at t at time recuperating after the depression I 
pic e up in the wake of the parliamentary elections 
I contested and lost in 1 984. That upset me a great 
deal because one month's campaign went behind 
that defeat. Walking in the sun, getting up at five 
and going around and getting back at midnight and 
all that ruined my health. My mental health too. I 

p.p. raveendran/151 

became very depressed. As depressed as anyone 
losing a dear one would feel. At that time my sister 
took me to her Anamalai home in the mountains 
in Tamil Nadu. She said I had lost my voice totally 
with all the speeches I'd made in the street corners 
and slums. She kept the tape-recorder near my bed 
and said 1 could go on talking into that if 1 were 
sleepless. And 1 whispered into that. In the morning 
she would get her secretary to come and type it. 
These are the "Anamalai Poems." They are so real, 
you know. They are full of the pain that 1 felt. They 
are slightly indisciplined in their craft because it was 
midnight or past midnight when 1 spoke them into 
the recorder. 

P.P.R. : How many of them did you write? 

K.D. ; Twenty seven, 1 think. 

P.P.R. : Not all are published, I suppose. 

K.D. ; I think about fifteen or twenty of them appeared in 

the Sahitya Akademi's journal. And a few are 
included in my recent 'Bodhi' collection. But 1 don't 
normally read them because they are too near the 
nerve. They are all so different from the earlier 
poems when 1 fell in love, you know, and shone, 
and blazed like the sun. They are all so different. 

P.P.R. ; On the contrary, I believe these poems have some 
connection with your earlier writings. One of your 
very early stories in Malayalam named "Malan- 
cherivukalil", written in the fifties, is located in a 
similar area of imaginative experience. An obses- 
sion with loneliness is common to both. 

K.D. : At that time I had a minor surgery done on me and 

I landed in a hospital. Dr. Shirodkar's hospital. 1 
suppose I was full of fear then. I imagined that there 
was a ghost around talking to me. That was how 
that story came up. Part of it is real, part of it made 
up. I used to believe in ghosts. 

152/INDIAN literature ; 155 


K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 

K.D. : 

P.P.R. ; 
*K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 

“^K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 

Your Colombo poems would provide another 
instance of life getting transmuted into art. 

Colombo 1 had to write because 1 was there those 
two years when things were going wrong. I had 
watched people being killed so that those poems 
had to be written, certainly, and that was the time 
when 1 felt that I mustwriteaboutwhat I saw around 
me. I'm also a chronicler. A writer is not merely a 
lyrical poet, but is a chronicler of events that happen 
around her. 1 was a witness to the event when a 
neighbour was done to death. 

Speaking of connections again, what is the relation 
between your short stories in Malayalam and 
English? Are short stories in English translations of 
stories orginally written in Malayalam? The stories 
included in the Sterling collection, for example. 

Some of them were originally written in English. 
"Padmavati the Harlot" was first written in English 
and then translated into Malayalam. Others were 
translated from Malayalam mostly by myself. I prefer 
to be my own translator. I am a good translator. 

Have you translated anything else? 

I have recently translated several lines of the 
Malayalam folk song "Unniyarcha" at the request 
of Dr. Ayyappa Paniker for the Sahitya Akademi. 

And how did you enjoy translating "Unniyarcha"? 

You see, I have certain firm views about translation. 
I don't go in fora word-to-word translation. I always 
try to retain the spirit of the original in translation. 
That is why I am against long footnotes and things 
like that which some people use in translation. A 
translation should reflect the moral fibre of a people. 
That is why I refuse to translate anything in which 
Kerala heroes are presented in poor light. 

I suppose you have made some translations of your 

p.p. raveendran/153 

K.D. : 

P.P.R. ; 
K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 

K.D. ; 

P.P.R. : 

K.D. : 

K.D. : 

mother's poetry into English. What has been your 
experience with them? 

Translating my mother's poetry is easy. But 1 find 
it difficult to translate people who do not give me 
the freedom to reconstruct the work because with- 
out adding a little or subtracting a few lines I 
wouldn't be able to manage. I wouldn't be able to 
make it a finished work because I find in most reg- 
ional literature certain inadequacies that come with 
the writer being a little bit too pompous to be a 
success. Because there are posturings which do not 
appeal to me. 1 would like a writer to be as honest 
as he or she can be. 

They are transcreations then, rather than transla- 

More or less. Because if 1 were to attempt a literal 
translation I do not think the project will be fit for 
an international market today. 

Coming back to your short stories in Malayalam, 
what is their exact relation to your poetry? 1 ask this 
because it is often pointed out that a good many 
of your short stories are poetic and lyrical. Would 
you too rate your short stories thus? 

Perhaps, yes. Partly because my blood group dic- 
tates my creation. 1 won't be able to change the 
style of my work or my personality. 

Does this also dictate your preference for the short 
story form over the novel? Because I see that you 
have not made many attempts at writing novels and 
the few that you have written like Manasi — 

It is a long story. 

It has not been particularly successful either, 1 sup- 

Not financially at least. Because 1 don't think the 

154/INDIAN literature ; 155 

novel is a form that will adjust to my way of writing. 
And therefore I don't write a novella unless I'm in 
need of money. 

P.P.R. : Have you noticed that many of your short stories, 

your lyrical stories and fantasies apart, are direct 
translations of real-life experiences? Stories like 
"Prabhatham", "Kurup" and "Vakeel Ammaman" 
seem to be taken directly out of your personal past. 
In fact they do not seem to be much different from 
the accounts you give in your childhood reminis- 
cences, Balyakala Smaranakai (Memories of Child- 
hood). Alternatively, Balyakala Smaranakai can be 
read as a collection of short stories. How will you 
explain this? 

K.D. : Balyakala Smaranakai \s an experiment I undertook. 

I wanted each piece in it to stand apart as a short 
story and yet I wanted the truth to be told, as far 
as I could remember it. I have used dialogue which 
1 heard years ago and 1 have retained the rustic 
flavour. I have a very good memory. Some of us 
in the Nalapat family possess a great memory. 1 
suppose I can boast a bit. When I experience some- 
thing, I remember the colours, the dialogue, the 
sound and its texture without any difficulty. 1 had 
a friend called Dr. Ramanlal Patel, a very fine gen- 
tlement, a psychiatrist, in Bombay. A well-known 
person. He used to talk to me about the cases that 
he had handled without disclosing the names. He 
told me once that he would be sending half-cured 
people to me as he thought, now, all they needed 
was my love. So some of these younger ones would 
come to me. They were mainly girls and I would 
just hold their hands and sit there and let them talk 
and then turn them to writing poetry or to painting. 
Which worked in their cases. So Ramanlal told me 
once, Kamala, you experiment, you have a remark- 
able memory. You try to go back into your life, 
towards your childhood and try to remember 

p.p. raveendran/1 55 

things. Try to remember things which may be lying 
forgotten now. It is possible to pick them out. 
Perhaps you will be able to hypnotize yourself into 
becoming a stronger person by this. So this was 
precisely what I did. Like meditation. Close the 
doors of a room, make it dark, lie on a bed and 
try to go inward. So you see from 1 992 I would go 
to 1991 and like that. And suddenly it occurred to 
me that I could get snatches of dialogue locked in 
years ago and this helped me to write Balyakala 
Smaranakal. It is a pure experiment. I don't think 
such an experiment has taken place in any other 
■language. So I turned each of them into a vignette 
that can stand apart. Yet the whole thing possesses 
continuity. After that ! tried Varshangaiku Mumbu 
(Years ago) and Neermathalam Pootha Kalam 
(When the Pomegranate Bloomed) and I hoped that 
the three would fit into one volume. It was an exper- 
iment that succeeded. It is too soon now to say 
whether the audience liked the book, but give it 
some time. I think every product, even a literary 
product, is like food that is cooked. You must let 
it cool before you eat it. So let it cool and may be 
in fifty years' time it will be considered to be a good 
product of the 1980's. ■ 

P.P.R. ; Would you consider these books metafictional? 

Especially because in the contemporary literary 
scene fiction is fast becoming metafictional? 

K.D. ; There is no fiction in Balyakala Smaranakal and 
Neermathalam Pootha Kalam. It is all real. You have 
most of the characters still alive, although very old, 
and it will be very easy to ask them. People like 
Amma, and many old relations. 

P.P.R. : However that might be, I find the language of these 

books absolutely fascinating. Have you ever given 
any conscious thought to the language of your fic- 
tion? And to the question of fictional language in 

156/INDIAN literature : 155 


K.D. : I firmly believe that our language needs a change. 

Dont't keep it as it was years and years ago. English 
has added on so much. 

P.P.R. : It is actually the duty of creative writers to bring 

about such changes. 

*K.D. : Absolutely. I'll tell you what I've to say about this. 

You see Kuttikrishna Marar, though he was gram- 
mer-oriented, was for a simple language. On the 
other hand Panmana Ramachandran Nair argues 
for grammatical rigour. If 1 tried to write in Pan- 
mana's language my stories will fall flat on the read- 
ers. As I said I didn't have any formal education, 
yet I was able to write stories. How did I come to 
understand the mechanism of writing? Not by study- 
ing any formal grammar. Good, simple language 
comes to us quite naturally. As it came to my 
mother's uncle, whose Pavangal (translation of Les 
Miserables) is very easy to read. We should have 
the courage to use clean, unadorned language in 
our writing. Our thoughts too will then be right. I 
always prefer to see near-naked women rather than 
overdressed women. Look at some of our bharata- 
natyam dancers. They are overdressed with a lot 
of jevyellery and gliter. This overdressing seems to 
be characteristic of our writing today. We have to 
change this. What we need is not the extravagance 
of the bharatanatyam dancer, but the simplicity of 
the ballet dancer. We must try to bring in such 
simplicity to our language. Use less rhetoric. Whittle 
your language down to the essentials. Let its kernel 
come out. We should be able to produce such 
literature in the future. That is why 1 have my doubts 
about the novel form. The reign of the novel is over . 
The age of producing voluminous works is past. 

That may not be entirely true, 1 fear. Because in the 

P.P.R. : 

p.p. raveendran/157 

*K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 

K.D. : 

West some of the novelists associated with what is 
called the post-modernist tradition are still produc- 
ing huge, voluminous works. 

That might be so. But we have no reason to ape 
the West. Yes, this view is quite widespread. There 
are some people who tell me that now it is time I 
produced a big masterpiece. A magnum opus. 
Implying that all that I've written so far — poems and 
stories — are not sufficiently long. If I write a huge 
book may be I'll get many awards. But that is not 
in my nature. I'm quite satisfied with what I've writ- 
ten. I'm perhaps moving in the opposite direction. 
Moving toward the kernel. My greatest wish is to 
adorn Malayalam with a work that represent the 
quintessential spirit of the language. 1 am trying to 
direct my creative energy to move in that direction. 

Has your distrust of the novel form got anything to 
do with your criticism of Indian English writers, 
especially the novelists? 

Indian English writers generally carry off the com- 
monwealth award because they write disparagingly 
of what happens in India. And I have a suspicion 
that such awards are meant for people who show 
us often in poor light. For example, Salman Rushdie. 
There was such a big furore over the banning of 
his book in India. I certainly believe that the book 
was to be banned. In that controversy I was certainly 
on the other side. Not on Khomeini's side, because 
1 am a vegetarian and I don't want anyone killed. 

1 have been often asked by interviewers from India 
and outside India what I thought of the Rushdie 
affair. On my list of priorities peace would come 
first, and literature only second. 1 would not mind 
if all the writings that have been produced in this 
world would one day get burnt if it can ensure 
peace. The ultimate aim of literature and art must 
be to establish peace on this earth. 

158/INDIAN literature : 155 



P.P.R. : 
K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 
K.D. : 

P.P.R. : 

K.D. ; 

You had mentioned the relationship between crea- 
tive energy and maternal instinct. Could you elabo- 
rate on this? 

The mother instinct has always been there. Because 
1 was always a maternal kind of person knowing 
only how to mother. The feelings of a mother are 
very strong in me. There is no doubt about that. 
So' much so I end up mothering even those who 
do me harm. 

Will you relate your story "Unni" to this instinct? 

In "Unni” I just imagined, you know, if a man died, 
in what form he would come back to the woman 
who had loved him. Would it be in the same form 
as she had first seen him? 1 just wove a story along 
those lines. 

What about the series of stories including "Rajavinte 
Premabhajanam?" (The King's Beloved) 

They were intended as a sort of feminist writing. 
How woman is reduced to the status of a mechan- 
ical toy because of her capacity to live — this was 
what I tried to explore in those stories. It is this 
emotion that makes woman a slave. Some women 
of course enjoy it, I mean, living their lives in slavish 
submission to another person. I wrote that series of 
stories only to explore If ever such a woman would 
gain freedom in the end. And she does gain her 
freedom in the end— in "The Old Playhouse." And 
she has never looked back after that. 

Don't you think this attitude in the stories lays them 
open to the charge of a psychological fear, of free- 
dom? Escape from freedom? 

Escape from love — the traps of love. This was some- 
thing I desired very much to escape from. This love. 
It is a terrible feeling. Like being bound in by an 
unbreakable eggshell. I know that I must come out 

p.p. raveendran/159 

P.P.R. : 

K.D. : 

K.D. : 

of it alive. And there seemed to be no way out. But 
at the same time it's also a comfortable situation, 
because there is safety in it. Nevertheless I got fed 
up with it all and decided to discard safety in favour 
of freedom, if it would be possible, and see what 
would happen in those stories. In real life, however, 
I have not been as successful in this endeavour. 
Always my husband was there by my side. Ours 
was not merely a man-woman relationship. It was 
more akin to the bond between the protector and 
the protected. 

In spite of the feminist concerns that can be read 
off or read into your stories and poems many of 
your statements are quite critical of feminism. 

I'll tell you something. Feminism as the westerns 
see it is different from the feminism I sense within 
myself. Western feminism is an anti-male stance. I 
can never hate the male because I have loved my 
husband and 1 still love my children, who are sons. 
And I think from masculine company I have derived 
a lot of happiness. So I will never be able to hate 
them. Most of the feminists I met outside the country 
were lesbians — out and out lesbians. I do not think 
I'm lesbian. I tried to find out. I experiment with 
everything. I tried to find out if I were a lesbian, if 
I could respond to a woman. I failed. I must speak 
the truth. I believe that we must abandon a. thing 
if it has no moral foundation whether it be a belief, 
a political system or a religious system. 

Religious system? Why are you opposed to religion? 

I'm talking of institutional religion. I have always 
felt that religions, political systems and ideas have 
all become redundant today. They have crossed 
their expiry date. And they have become poisonous 
to the consumer. Now if you practise a religion 
which is out of date, certainly it's going to destroy 

160/INDIAN literature : 155 

your soul. What I say is that worship should be 
made very private. I certainly believe that religion, 
that is, public practice of religions, should be legis- 
lated away. As religions are man-made — which is 
obvious — let man legislate them away. Remove 
them from the scene for a change. For I think per- 
haps they have become too venomous for peace. 
And if you let religions revive themselves — and 
that's precisely what is happening these day all over 
the world — I think we shall all suffer. It will be a 
holocaust worse than the nuclear holocaust. 

K'.D. : Aren't you aware of the political implications of 

this statement? 

K.D. : 1 do not fear the politicians. They can do what they 

can with me. But I'm not talking about individuals. 
I'm talking about systems. Now if you try to promote 
a system that is out of date it will corrode your soul. 
You will become unclean. Only a thing which is 
new, or which has been repaired, or which has 
been recycled is all right. Even recycling 1 would 
allow, but if it cannot be repaired at all, abandon 
it. Even if it's only a belief, abandon it. Now Russia, 
they abandoned their moral foundations and they 
felt they have lost everything. This is a fact. You 
know Gorbachev, he mentioned Leninism to spread 
his programme of reforms. But what happened was 
that his programme actually undid Leninism. This 
is what we also do in our country in the name of 
Gandhiji. We go on mentioning Gandhiji, even as 
we reject his principles. What Gorbachev did I think 
was foolish. He hoped to bring a revolution from 
above. But no revolutions come from above. Ony 
vultures come from above. You know everything 
should come from the earth. Something healthy 
should have roots on the earth, roots into the earth. 

P.P.R. : Does this compel you to redefine your philosophy 

of love? 

p.p. raveendran/161 

K.D. : Ah yes. I can love everybody. But only in small 

doses. It's a fact. If I were asked to love the mad 
beggar who came and made a scene in the morning 
I may try very hard to love him but with very little 

P.P.R. : In the light of all this, what shape do you foresee 

for your future writings? 

K.D. : At times like this when the country is facing a very 

serious crisis and we are on the edge of a precipice 
economically, politically and culturally, I think we 
should not think of producing plays or novels or 
poetry. I think we'll have to do better than that. 
We'll have to agitate for justice, and for sanity. This 
because there Is an obvious lack of sanity in the 
economic circles, the banking circles and the gov- 
ernment circles. And unless the public do not advise 
the government or show their displeasure right now, 
we are in for a more serious crisis. 

Kamala Da§ 


Do not beguile me with a promise 
of immortal love 

for, 1 have seen the glaze in a dying 

husband’s eye and have lost faith in all 

Do not promise great moments 

of self-realization 

of serener incarnations 

1 have seen terror twist 

my husband’s face and have heard 

the awesome rattle of his final breath 

Do not talk to me of beauties 

still to be envisaged for I have 

seen the waxy pallor of a dead man’s 

skin and 1 do not care now 

to see more 

Do not thrust upon me 

the scriptures compiled by sages 

wise and celibate 

or pacifying philosophies 

1 have held a man 

between my legs and have 

brought forth goodnatured sons 

If there is a God somewhere 

despite the distance he kept 

between himself and me 

please heed my request today 

I need a Lull in this living 

a pause to take stock of all. 


The living must ultimately 
triumph over the dead 
and outlive them in moderate calm 
In twenty weeks 

my grief gave way to faint stirrings 
of guilt 

In the gauzy sleep of dawn 
1 had not lain against him 
for fifteen years or more 
I had tried as satiated wives did 
to wean him off desire 
My celibacy flowed like a river in spate 
between the twin beds in our room 
There are no memories that enthrall 
no fond phrase capsuled in thought 
It was never a husband and wife bond 
We were such a mismated pair 
Yet there were advantages, I admit 
he was free to exploit and I was free 
to be exploited 

We were quits at every game we played 

I could have been Sita to his Ram 

had I been given half a chance 

I reared three sons 

he was too busy to watch them grow 

but he it was who wore the faded face 

that they recognised as their father’s 

His was the heavy tread 

heard on the gravel at dusk 

He peered into his office files 

till the supper turned cold 

and the children got up to sleep 

I cannot recollect a film 

a play or a concert he took us to 

or a joke which together we shared 

164/iNDIAN literature ; 155 

He was like a bank locker 
steely cold and shut 
or a filing cabinet that 
only its owner could unlock 
Not for a moment did 1 own him. 
Only a few bedbound chores 
executed well, tethered him to me 
Emotion was never a topic 
brought up in our home 
although for long it remained 
as grist for the tales that the night 
and I, combined, produced. 

Do I miss him? 

Of course, I do, for larger than life 
was he. I miss that brusque voice 
sending out the strays 
hugging their manuscripts 
meekly as unwed mothers did 
their illegitimate offspring 
I miss his censoring my daily mail 
his screening each phone .call 
and the insulation of his care. 



T his story has mainly two characters — Anasuya and her lover 
the Bison. Its theme is the love that grows between the two. 
Even after love has almost totally gone out of their relationship, 
the bond remains strong. For, a deep and spiritual relationship 
usually develops between the hunter and his prey, between the 
murderer and the one about to be murdered. The story can be 
begun at any point. 

The time when the Bison, conquering the peaks of political 
power, wielding the deadly weapons of threat, bribery and extor- 
tion, and enthroning himself as the uncrowned king of the great 
city, revels away the evenings with seductive women and accepts 
with bowed head bouquets and garlands and flattery at public 
meetings during the day; the time when he reigns supreme, pros- 
perous and at peace with himself — let me begin the story here. 
Or let me begin at the moment when Anasuya, a follower of the 
religion of love viewing life as a festival of poetry, strolls along 
the beach for physical exercise, and sees for the first time the 
one tattooed on the forehead — the Bison. 

Most of those who go for a stroll quite early in the morning 
along the concrete-paved beach at Marine Drive in Bombay are 
celebrated millionaire^. And one thing that millionaires earn along 
with their wealth is enmity. Therefore, with the passage of time, 
they come to fear their own shadows. Each of them believes that 
his greatest enemy is the dark shadow that comes creeping up 
from behind. To escape from the clutches of these shadows they 
present the beggars on the beach with coins, donate money to 

166/INDIAN literature : 155 

charitable institutions, build holy temples and renovate dilapi- 
dated ones. 

Only a pale light cast by the street bulbs and occasionally 
by the moon can be seen on that beach between five and five 
forty-five. The street lights will go out exactly at 5:45. After that 
you'll have to walk in pitch darkness for five or ten minutes. 
Reaching the foot of the streetbridge set up the beginning of 
Chowpatty, these millionaires will hold their breath. Are there 
enemies in the dark? Will all the poor of the world attack us? 
The rich man fears only the poor. 

At the time of high tide large waves resembling kraits will 
come dashing against the stone wall. Then the leper sleeping 
with his body leant against the wall will wake up and remove 
the rheum from his eyes with his finger stumps. Then he will 
chant the name of Rama in a gruff voice till the sky lights up. 

It is at this time when you can hardly recognise a face a 
yard away that the rich ones will come out for a stroll in their 
dhotis, white pyjamas and muslin kurtas. They are shy by nature. 
They feel that since they have spent a lifetime in the hard, devoted 
pursuit of wealth, they are deprived of certain other achieve- 
ments. Therefore, it is only with a bit of inferiority complex and 
with heads bowed down that they can move through this great 
world inhabited by the wise ones and philosophers and poets 
and artists. 

One morning, around a quarter past six, when Anasuya's 
stroll was almost over, the hero — the millionaire of millionaires, 
the king of kings, the Bison — crossed the street and came to the 
beach. He was wearing a Davangere dhoti, a white khadi kurta 
and a light blue jawahar jacket. A distinctive aroma of imported 
perfumes emanated from him. Their eyes locked for a moment. 
A wild and primordial hunger burst into flames in those four 
eyes. Anasuya then realised that it was a case of "saw and knew." 
Quickly getting into her old blue car, she drove back home. 

Libertines and pleasure-seekers have a congenital gift to re- 
cognise the members of their private group. The far-away look 
in their eyes may mislead others. But members of their own group 
will never take it seriously. They know that they are a queer lot. 
They build houses near the sea or the river. They sip slowly and 

KAMALA das/ 167 

with relish the sweet essence of every moment. What flows 
through their veins is a mixture of blood and liquor. They sincerely 
believe that they are gods. Like gods they can flare up, be propi- 
tiated, revel and enjoy. 

The hero, like Ravana, had ten faces. By the time she got 
closer to the face “Peace” after passing through “Lust”, “Rage”, 
'Horror”, and so on, she would be exhausted. “I can't live 
without you,” she would say. And the Bison would tell her, 
“Don't be a slave to emotions, Anasuya.” 

Yet, she felt his fingers suddenly turning merciful on her 
cheeks at moments of slipping into sleep. In that semiconcious 
state she also heard him softly whispering her pet name. 

Anasuya knew that it was not possible to bind him down 
with love and a regimen of sex. Because he was the chief “Black 
Face”* on the primitive stage of politics. And the underworld 
emperor of Asuras. For the rich and seductive prostitutes he was 
the apple of their eye. Anasuya felt an indefinable gratification 
when she nestled him in her arms for an hour each on two or 
three days a week. Even in that posture phones rang. And door- 
bells clanged, Anasuya felt that her lover was a stone statue set 
up on an important street. Also that they were copulating on a 
stage bathed in light in full view of ail. She later realised how 
true that thought was. Movie cameras hidden among the books 
in the almirah immortalised every one of their movements. He 
showed that strange film to a bosom friend of his. And he told 
her: “He's someone very important for me. Why can't you please 
him as well?” 

That day she went back home in haste even without a good- 
bye. She was not prepared to stoop to that level. She doubted 
whether she too was eventually turning into a chaste woman. 

Yet she went back to him. 

“You can't live without me,” he said with a smile. She 
nodded, touching his burned cheeks, 

“Why do you invite all those communists and journalists to 
your house?" he asked her once. “1 don't trust their kind.” 

Anasuya got restless when the Communist activist who used 
to visit her and play the fiddle on her verandah on some evenings 

* Kari vesham—tbe make up of a typical villainous character in Kathakali. 

168/INDIAN literature : 155 

was found dead by the police behind a temple. 

"What a poor chap!" she murmured. 

"You're the poorest one!" said her lover. 

On his return from a foreign tour she could detect some 
changes in his behaviour. She realised that, the final scene she 
had been expecting with fear was quite close to her. His eyes 
came to have a vacant look even while he was resting in her 
arms. Moreover, their eyes did not meet, like in the old days, 
while she was getting dressed or brushing her hair. She did not 
ask him about the reason for such a change. She had never asked 
the reason why he got close to her and why she was chosen as 
his beloved, had she? So, fixing for ever in her memory that look 
and that stance that reminded one of a horned buffalo, she col- 
lapsed in a heap at his feet and hugged those knees. She could 
not utter aloud his pet name that lay dozing in every breath she 

"Get up, Anasuya. It's late. 1 have to attend a meeting at 
5:30," he said. Then he sprayed his white khadi coat liberally 
with the cologne he had brought from America. 

Every two or three years he would consult his doctor in 


America with the idea of regaining his health. He had told her, 
not once but many times, that he was trying to avert an untimely 
death. Every time she heard those words she found it hard to 
suppress her laughter, knowing as she did that though his body 
was that of an exercise-loving youth he was in fact close to 
seventy years of age. She knew that he would lose the peace of 
mind he was experiencing in her proximity if she for once hinted 
at his old age or his weaknesses. For the very backbone of that 
man who was dreaded by all in that city was his supreme self-con- 
fidence. If that was shaken, those brawny legs would stagger, 
that heavy neck would droop, the guffaws capable of bringing 
the roof down would come to an end, and he would cease to 
be a king, cease to be a lion, cease to be Bhagwan Sri Krishna 
the eternal lover ... So, removing with the caressing strokes of 
her slender fingers those little aches of his soul, she got trans- 
formed to mother, beloved and devotee. 

But, after his foreign trip, he was a changed man. Anasuya 
realised that all the appetites which she had sung to sleep were 
now awake. The honeymoon was over. One evening she went 
to his house earlier than usual. Rain throbbed on the city's 
forehead like a dull headache. The poisonous exhalations of the 
sea chased her. At the gate Anasuya watched a woman coming 
out of the house. She saw the sweat on her face and the cosmetics 
mixed with the sweat. There flowed either from her hair or from 
her clothes the aroma of some steam-baked sweetmeat. Ana- 
suya's mind suddenly became restless. 

"Master is resting," the manservat told her at the door. 

In the bedroom he smiled at her, lying on his side on the cot. 

"You're too early today, Anasuya," he said. She sat on the 
cot. He was sweating profusely even in that power-cooled bed- 
room. She wondered whether the flowers in the pots on the table 
had also acquired the smell of that sweat. Do flowers too smell 
like a man's sweat? 

"What's up, my darling?" she asked. 

"I'm not at all well. I have a pain on the back of my neck," 
he said. 

She discovered red lipstick marks at two places on his kurta. 
But she did not ask him anything about it. 

1 70/!NOIAN literature : 1 55 

"Never try to change me and make me a different man," 
he used to tell her. 

She closed her eyes to his deceits and stratagems. She started 
changing. She began to believe that hypocrisy was an integral 
part of politics and trade and romance. 

"We fear nothing," he said. "We fear none." 

She too repeated those words, pressing her face against his 
chest, "We fear none." 

Once, while she was pouring him tea the manservant knock- 
ed at the door. 

"Who's it?" he asked with resentment. 

"Sita Devi's come." he said. 

"Damn it!" He rose in anger and went out of the room. 

Anasuya, stepping out on the verandah, viewed the street 
and the sea lying spread out beyond it. She heard his rebukes 
from some room within. Then the grievances and sobs of a 

"You'll regret it if you're a nuisance again," he said finally. 

Anasuya suddenly returned to the room. Her heartbeats 
went faster. Who is Sita Devi? 

Later he reluctantly told her that story. He had been putting 
up his mistress Sita Devi, a former film star, in a house he had 
constructed for her, for the last six years. On obtaining evidence 
that she was just a prostitute he had turned her out. 

"This is the worst of all humiliations," he said. 

"How did you know she was a prostitute?" asked Anasuya. 

"Don't ask unnecessary questions, Anasuya," he said. 
"Don't poke your nose into all these things." 

On reading in a newspaper three days later that Sita Devi, 
a former film star, had committed suicide in a small hotel in 
Colaba, Anasuya went weak ail over. Her phone rang six times 
that day. But she didn't respond. He came to her with a bduquet 
at five thirty in the evening. White roses. 

"White roses symbolise innocence," he said. I've never seen 
anyone as innocent as you." 

Anasuya sobbed, burying her face in his chest. 

"Never forsake me," she said. 

"How can I forsake you?" he asked, smiling. 

KAMALA das/171 

In the early days many people had told Anasuya stories 
about him doing the rounds in the city. They told her that he 
had certified his eldest daughter as mad and put her up in a 
mental home when she fell in love with a Communist leader; 
that he had taken out his typist to Poona when she got pregnant 
and had killed her, pushing her out of the car down a deep 
ravine; that a well-known journalist investigating the inside stories 
of certain smugglers had been killed by his thugs, and so on. 
Later Anasuya tried to avoid everyone. She was gradually getting 
distanced from all. And soon she was convinced that she was 
all alone with him on the stage. 

It was then that she became pregnant. 

"You were trying to trap me?" asked the Bison. "You too 
have the characteristic feminine cunning?" 

Eventually he told her firmly : 

"This should be aborted. Or else I won't have any relations 
whatever with you from now on. You know, don't you? That 
I'm not an ordinary man. I have an important position in this 
nation's public life. You should remember that!" 

172/INDIAN literature : 155 

The day she came back from the hospital he presented her 
with a diamond necklace. 

"This pallor, in fact, adds to your beauty," he said, kissing 
her. But her health deteriorated. She withered like a rose plant 
affected by canker. The melody of her embraces got fainter and 
fainter. And the flames of her hunger grew paler. 

"What's happened to you? You're behaving like an old 
woman these days!" he said. Then he threw away a Bhagwati 
idol placed in a corner of her room. "This excessive devotion 
has made you useless," he muttered. 

Anasuya jumped to her feet. 

"You monster, get out!" she cried. Her voice went rough 
with rage. "I don't want to see you again." 

"I'm glad! You pretend to be so merciful! How easily you 
could. kill the child inside you!" 

He went out, slamming the door shut. Sobbing, Anasuya 
kissed the fallen Bhagwati idol. "O my Mother! Save me!" she 

Around one O'clock that night loud knocks on the door 
woke her up. When she opened the door, a gentlemen dressed 
in western style and a white-clad man who was often seen hanging 
around the Taj Mahal Hotel entered in a hurry. 

"Who are you?" Anasuya asked. 

"What's your rate?" the man in suit asked her. Anasuya realised 
that his eyes were assessing her anatomy. 

"You're mistaken," she said. "This is no such place." 

"No, memsahib!" said the pimp. "We're not mistaken. 
Somebody gave us the name and address." 

After shutting them out she lay awake till morning. Then she 
slept for some minutes. She dreamed of a garden with fragrant 
flowers in full bloom and a venomous snake at large in it. The 
snake looked at her once and smiled. Would snakes laugh? She 
stood watching with wonder that smile, and soon the snake 
turned into a Bison. Later it was transformed into the Ravana 
who was lying sleepless on his finely decorated bed. 

Next day she enclosed the diamond necklace presented to 
her and an amount of one thousand rupees in a big envelope 
and had them delivered at his house along with a letter ; 


"I'm sending a small amount as a token of gratitude for your 
services. Goodbye! Anasuya." 

Wouldn't that Bison bellow on knowing that she had imagin- 
ed him as a mere male prostitute? She visualised that scene and 

After two days Anasuya kept strolling up and down along 
Marine Drive at dusk with a handsome study-mate. The Bison 
was standing at the open window on the verandah. She sat on 
a bench, leaning against her companion's shoulder. She cracked 
jokes and laughed aloud. The window on the verandah slammed 

Next morning when the street lights went out at five forty-five, 
Anasuya had reached the starting point of Chowpatty. At the 
foot of the streetbridge two hands held her mouth shut. She had 
expected it. So she didn't try to escape. She realised that, bound 
and blindfolded, she was being taken somewhere in a car. 

About half an hour later she opened her eyes in a bedroom 
decorated in a special way. Her lover the Bison was lying there 
on a bed. 

"Your story comes to an end today," he said. 

She nodded. She looked with affection at his glistening eyes 
and the divine symbol tattooed on his forehead. 

"First come and lie down here," he said. 

Then he told her that, exactly one hour later, her killers would 
come pushing the door open, that she would be knifed to death 
and liquified with acid in the bathroom tub, and that, finally, 
turned into a sort of dirty liquid, she would flow down from the 
tub through innumerable pipes into the city sewers. 

"My Anasuya, the sweetest one in the world, you too are 
coming to an end today," he whispered in her ear. 

Later, she gently kissed the Bison who was greatly tired. At 
the moment of slipping into sleep he said, pressing his face against 
her bosom, "Anasuya, I love you truly!" 

"I know it, darling," she said. 

She thus understood that though life had an end love did 
not necessarily have to end. 

Translated from Malayalam 
fay C.K. Mohamed Ummer 



T he Modernists in Malayalam short story rejected everyday 
realities of life, and tried to perceive the symbolic and emo- 
tional essence of things. They tried to give expression to this 
essence, through the deployment of images, archetypes and 
myths forming an internal structure of the story. Thus they had 
no further use for the traditional outward structure that deter- 
mined form. The structures of fantasy, allegory, fable, riddle and 
collage were employed. The narrative of the story gave way to 
the power of the symbol or image to convey countless possibilities 
of aesthetic experiences. The creative artist who renews himself 
constantly would have naturally reached this stage in his develop- 
ment. The inquiry regarding the evolution of the Malayalam short 
story beyond this stage becomes relevant as it will help to under- 
stand, identify and classify such stories as different from modernist 

In the hands of the modernists the story had ceased to be 
merely something that produced meaning, had become an entity 
that made one experience the absurdity, emptiness or futility of 
' the existence of an individual alienated from a society which has 
no specific place in time and space, or, in a moment in history. 
In other words existence of the individual has become an abstract 
concept. And by its very nature, this concept led to the writing 
of stories which were overwhelmingly philosophical in a predeter- 

A.). THOMAS/1 75 

mined manner. The modernist form had already chained itself 
to a non-form by rejecting the traditional form and confining itself 
to certain formulae. Degeneration to formalism lay just a step 
ahead. Now, the context also had to become stereotyped be- 
cause of the inevitable philosophical predilections. The philoso- 
phical questions raised mechanically became irrelevant as react- 
ions to a fast-changing world. During the dark days of the Emer- 
gency, and the time of the snuffing out of the extremist youth 
following this period, the modernist stories written about them 
in the form of fantasy or allegory, avoiding emotions, ended up 
in most cases as weak, fatalistic, and futile as reactions to grim 
contemporary realities. Instead of stories carrying the intensity of 
life-and-death situations, the ones we got were compromdses, 
the fruits of middle class mediocrity. Even in adopting philosophi- 
cal concepts from the West, like the absurdism of Camus, the 
nihilism of Nietzsche and the atheistic existentialism of Sartre, 
our iconoclastic modernists of the fifties had been sadly limited 
in their selection. Although Kesari Balakrishna Pillai had been 
writing articles for a a quarter century highlighting all leading 
European modernist trends In art and literature, most of our 
writers who were content with the compromise-existence of the 
middle classes lacked a radical approach or an intense sense of 
history akin to Kesari's and as a result — with the exception of a 
Basheer or a Thakazhy — the vast majority of them did not try to 
make use of the new ideas to help open new worlds of perception 
in the literature of the thirties or forties. Thus, the continuity of 
the modernist evolution in the West was lost to us and the re-read- 
ing of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud carried out by neo-Marxists 
and structuralists did not even touch us until the early eighties. 
And in the meanwhile, we had to be content with the staple diet 
of modernism based on the philosophical concepts of Camus 
and Sartre. The growth of modernism was stunted for reasons 
such as these. 

The greatest contribution of Modernism was that its accent 
was on intellectual approach and the importance of freedom of 
thought. The modernists presented new insights as new experi- 
ences in beauty. They tried to express the obtuseness contained 
in reality. Man, and the universe: what, how and why? Such 
were the questions they asked, and the cosmic awareness they 


professed. A grave aesthetic discipline was derived from them. 
The density of language was felt to be an important factor. The 
aloofness in narration and the deliberate draining of emotion by 
the writer were the changes brought about during the modernist 
period. Modernism emboldened man to engage in speculations 
about the relative nature of good and evil, and to root himself 
firmly in scepticism in an age when definitive conclusions could 
not be arrived at. It produced a bunch of writers who grew 
genuinely anxious about the strange nature of this universe, as 
time-honoured values, beliefs, institutions and social structures 
eroded, turned empty or lost relevance, in the particular social 
situations in Kerala. These writers tried to gain entry to this world 
of confusion, transform it into their inner life and interpret life in 
its terms, unlike the realists who tried to interpret life from the 
outside. Naturally, they had to turn into rebels and heroes of 
sorts as they protested against meaningless values and social 

There emerged an array of short story writers who started 
writing at the heyday of modernism. Their writing was charac- 
terised by the conscious selections of images and symbols, care 
about the time of action of each sentence, the awareness that a 
broken sentence would cause fissures in the plane of inner struc- 
ture, predilection for factors like antiquity and a sentence order 
that helped to portray the violent countenance of contemporary 
culture. These stories mark a transition from modernism to the 
next phase. Many of them had kept open in their hearts the raw 
wound of the excesses committed on extremist youth. This gen- 
eration of the lost spring soon petered out in the early eighties. 
Of these, N.S. Madhavan and Gracy have come back with pow- 
erful stories recently. K.P. Nirmal Kumar, Victor Lenous and 
Aymanam John have written a few stories of late, but writers like 
Mariyamma are silent. 

While most of the modernists were confined to the existential 
agony of the individual alienated from society and history, a line 
of progressive writers who were lonely voices, but committed to 
the social and historical aspects of existence, comes down from 
the fifties to the present. Pattathuvila Karunakaran, M. Sukumaran 
and Anand are the prominent names in this line. M. Sukumaran 

A.J, THOMAS/1 77 

eventually stopped writing altogether a decade ago. 

The new crop of stories that came after modernism were 
diverse in nature and defied any attempt at classification. These 
stories, written in the late seventies, eighties and early nineties 
make generalisations about them difficult as each of them so to 
say, is different from the other in form, content and treatment. 
As these stories come after modernism, they may be termed post- 
modern. But in actual fact, these stories are not entirely “post- 
modern" as the Western term implies. Some have described 
these stories as anti-modern. As they brought back all the attri- 
butes of the short story rejected by the modernists like lyricism, 
well-formed characters, narrative exuberance, romantic and nos- 
talgic elements, and even the classical form of the short story. 
But, this term is also misleading, as these stories do not at all 
mark a return to the pre-modernist era as it is not simply possible, 
and since most of the attributes of modernism are largely retained 
and improved upon by the new writers. Hence, these stories may 
be losely termed “neo-modern" as they contain whatever of 
worth handed down by the modernists and as they react to 
contemporary situations, unlike the formalistic approach of the 
latter defying time and space. 

While tracing the genealogy of neo-modern stories, we arrive 
at some stroies of Zacharia, V.P. Sivakumar, Thomas Joseph, 
and a few others. “Annamma Teacher: A' Memoir," "Who 
knows," "The Publicity Cart of Itha Ivide VareSets ofP' and "The 
Train Robbery," by Zacharia, "Elephantiasis," and "The Twelfth 
Hour" by V.P. Sivakumar, "The Wondrous Riddle", and "The 
Tragic Characters" of Thomas Joseph are examples. N.S. Madha- 
van's stories after his come back, especially "Higuita," the stories 
of Sarah Joseph like "Muditheyyamurayunnu" are further exam- 
ples of the developed neo-modern stories. There was an occasion 
when O.V. Vijayan's "Chengannur Vandi" was introduced as 
the first "Post-modern" story in Malayalam. But it is nothing but 
a formalist experiment of the sort that sounded the death knell 
of modernism. There are also several others like C. V. Sreeraman, 
Vaisakhan, Jayanarayanan, Harikumar, Akber Kakkattil, T.V. 
Kochubava, U.K. Kumaran, Sathrughnan, N.P. Hafiz Mohamed, 
Ashokan Charuvil, Ashtamoorthy, Manasi, P.A. Divakaran, V.S. 

178/INDIAN literature : 155 

Anilkumar, Raghunath Palery, E.V. Sreedharan, Nalini Bekal, 
Ambikasuthan Mangad, U.P. Jayraj, M. Sudhakaran, K. Raghu- 
nathan, Balachandran N.T., Ashitha, Abraham Mathew, K.P. 
Ramanunni and many others who write competent neo-modern 
stories. These stories are reactions to the mind-boggling moments 
of present day life. Though a clear-cut classification of neo-mod- 
ern stories is not entirely possible now, some of their main features 
can be traced. 

As already seen, many of the modernist features like objec- 
tive narration, disregard for form, experimentation on language, 
care about its density, meditation over words etc. are adopted 
by the neo-modernists as well. However, they are far removed 
from the philosophical predilection, conceptual approach and 
deliberate rebelliousness of the modernists. They are aware that 
life is not simple, they are not interested in a rebellion that springs 
from the authenticity of knowledge. They have no intellectual 
pretensions. They do not see the artist as someone set apart from 
society. An attempt at reaching out to an aesthetic sensibility 
hitherto unknown can be discerned in them. They try to turn the 
short story into a definition of reality in that they bring it back to 
a point in time and space, and place it in a moment in' history. 
It is not a return to the old realism, since they have learned from 
the modernists that reality is inco/nprehensible and in their quest 
for its meaning they have found that it is growing more complex 
than ever before. The neo-modern stories are the declaration of 
the finding that reality is inscrutable and undefinable. However, 
a survey of the contemporary scene would help elucidate their 

A panic culture which is the product of consumerism and 
the fast life on Western lines coupled with a deep anxiety that 
tragedy may strike anytime has started rearing its head in our 
urban areas. Besides this most of the peculiar problems faced 
now are corqmon to third-world countries and particularly to 
India such as internal disturbances, regionalism, caste-com- 
munal-religious struggles and riots, terrorism, disintegration of a 
centralised political entity, violent political upheavals, rivalries 
among political parties that turn bloody and devastating, crimes 
against women, unemployment and the sorrows of persons 

A.J. THOMAS/ 179 

self-exiled for employment, overpopulation and congestion in 
cities, corruption in government and public life, the sad plight 
of the common man who is dehumanised by all such factors etc. 
Added to them is the cultural erosion caused by the violent 
onslaught of Western culture — coming in on the waves of con- 
sumer culture and the revolutionary changes in economic and 
industrial spheres — seeping down to our countrysides from cities 
and towns, slowly converting the plains of Kerala into one stretch 
of uninterrupted suburbia. Ail these are decisive factors in shaping 
contemporary art and literature. The neo-modernist has to 
organise his reactions to such situations, much like the reactions 
of the Western post-modernists to the panic culture. 

He has to write "as if just before an impending doom," left 
with no alternatives like hoarding his experiences for maturation 
and later use, but the inevitable choice of utterance or absolute 
silence, and total annihilation the next moment, anyway. How- 
ever, much like the disillusioned and lethargic disposition of the 
people devoid of reactions in the face of all such complexities 
of contemporary life, the artist also finds himself at a loss as to 
how to react. (Hence, the evident absence of a well-orchestrated 
neo-modern movement). Even the most grim national or global 
catastrophe is relegated to the status of just another news item. 
As one becomes the votary of crass materialism, estrangement 
from one's sublime inner feelings follows. Innocence and sense 
of beauty are lost and one's organic relationship with nature itself 
is severed, in the swelteringly urbanised society. Devoid of even 
such a spirituality, a people without any inner life come into 
being. When knowledge of science Is degraded as a tool for the 
unlimited exploitation of nature and for ascending the rungs of 
success in life in a consumerist society, when study of humanities 
is neglected — all these ultimately prove to be attitudes against 
life itself. Every living moment turns out to be artificial. Thus, the 
general feeling is that no philosophy, religion or ideology would 
prove to be a succour for life today. The sense of seif that exists 
in a shattered state gives rise to diverse individual visions. 

Thus, today's short stories are marked by their diversity, in 
the absence of philosophical, political or social stand points that 
can be generally applied — because of the rapidity with which 

180/iNDIAN literature : 155 

changes set in and values erode — the very language of the story 
is manipulated and developed, so as to serve as a substitute for 
them. Examples are found in stories like V.P. Sivakumar's 
"Elephantiasis," Thomas Joseph's "Wondrous Riddle" and N.S. 
Madhavan's "Higuita". Here, the individual represents a particu- 
lar state: as Sivakumar, the character in "Elephantiasis" turns out 
to be an unending, futile journey; as, in "A Wondrous Riddle" 
the creator betrayed by his creatures and alienated from their 
word, disappears, leaving the tumult and pandemonium of a 
storm behind, and so on. In other words, the medium, itself 
transforms into an integrated symbol of life. In all these stories, 
the individual characters disappear at a stage, and only the con- 
dition they were in remains as an end-result of the story whereas 
in modernist stories, an idealised individual anguished about the 
meaning of existence is projected. Thus,, the neo-modern short 
story has broken out of the individual-centred philosophical vici- 
ous circles of the modernists, by a sheer thrust towards an almost 
imperceptible social consciousness, restoring the individual to 
his social context in the process like a chick that has pecked its 
way out of the egg-shell and has started life in communion with 
the outside world. The evolution from modernism can be 
observed markedly in many of these stories as they still operate 
in the space of the inner world of an individual's mind. Further, 
the neo-modern short story writer does not hesitate to forego the 
limiting factors like the elements of logicality or probability in his 
attempt to create this inner world full of conflicts, contradictions 
and confusion. The freedom to think and imagine, boldly cham- 
pioned by the modernist writers, has stood in good stead for the 
neo-modernist whose daring advances in creative exuberance 
have led him to reconsider age-old devices like lyrical expression, 
dramatic and narrative elements, giving the neo-modernist short 
story the best of both pre-modernist and modernist character- 
istics. The philosophical mythification of the modernists has been 
updated by the neo-modernists by eliminating the distance be- 
tween ordinary life situations and their symbolic essence — the 
body and soul are kept together as a whole, single entity. They 
reject all ostentatious trappings extraneous to true artistic sensi- 
bility, and delineate experiences in a strictly accurate manner as 

A.J, THbMAS/181 

manifested in stories like “The Twelfth Hour" by V.P. Sivakumar, 
and "Higuita” by N.S. Madhavan. 

The neo-modernist are noted for their dexterity in creating 
very mundane, or quotidian, situations which may at first sight 
appear as casual or even drab. But, on closer examination, we 
find that it is so because they drain the sensational elements from 
the dramatic or narrative content. They have bits of familiar struc- 
tures — that of a film, a live telecast, animations, cartoons, carica- 
tures, paintings, sculptures, music, parables, folk tales, riddles 
.. a familiar form through which life peeps and peers in the living 
present. We feel that we are reading stories sprouted in the 
sensibility of the present, and that they have been created as the 
quickest expressions of the writer's most immediate relationship 
with the world. 



M ALAYALAM Short Story celebrated its centenary last year. 

Down the years the genre has become a vital and vigorous 
expression of lifestyles and changing social patterns, rising to the 
eminence of a most favoured medium, as far as the Malayalam 
speaking public is concerned. In fact today no periodical in 
Kerala is complete without a couple of short stories. 

Short story writing in Malayalam has been undergoing a lot 
changes both in form and content. The stories of modern writers 
are entirely different from those of the past. Though the individual 
contributions of the great masters deserve a deep study, in a 
general survey like this it is rather difficult to evaluate their 
technique and style. At best, one can only outline the major 
developments in the course of a century. 

The history of the short story in the Malayalam literature 
commences with the publication of 'Vasana vikriti' by Kesari 
Kunhiraman Nayanar, in a periodical 'Vidya Vinodini' which 
ceased publication long ago. Even though there were stories and 
legends written in Malayalam before, it was considered the first 
attempt in modern story following the models created by Western 
writers. This story appeard 40 years after the publication of 
Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Twice Told Tale' which is a landmark 
in short fiction. 

The early practitioners of Malayalam short story developed 
the form on the well-knit outline of the genre: the plot thickens 
and the story centres around it revealing the 'themes of the tale.' 
Many of their short stories, in the present day context, can only 

N.p. mohamed/183 

be called novelettes or short novels. The domination of the plot 
over the story imposed serious restrictions on the author in the 
portrayal of characters and social milieu, naturalness of the 
background, topographical details and the collective life, result- 
ing in incredible happenings. There were no critical or creative 
approaches to the stories at the time of their appearance. This 
was made later in the famous study of short stories by M.P. Paul 
in 1932. He too had taken Western examples to illustrate his 

In many ways the year 1932 may safely be considered a 
breakthrough for the short story. Around that time, a band of 
storytellers of intrinsic merit came on the scene and gave the 
story its popular appeal. Towering geniuses like P. Kesavadev, 
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Ponkunnam Varkey began writing 
stories questioning established values. The story began to be 
used as a medium for the critical portrayal of the social evils and 
customs that prevailed in Kerala's caste-ridden society. Their tales 
contained an impassioned plea for the eradication of these evils. 
Kesavadev was the forerunner of this movement. But many of his 
stories, despite the author's enthusiasm for social reform remain- 
ed a naturalistic portrayal of the underdog. 

Thakazhi also wrote stories along the same lines but with a 
difference. The social criticism was subdued; aesthetic value was 
not sacrificed for the sake of social appeal. He also provided 
deep insights into the adventures of the mind using the psycho- 
logical discoveries of the time. In a sense he portrayed the 'Social 
Man'. The stories of this period can roughly be grouped as pro- 
ducts of social realism. 

Malayalam literature was fortunate enough to have a 'guru' 
in A. Balakrishna Pillai, an encyclopaedic scholar with a revo- 
lutionary bent of mind. His vision had no bounds. He introduced 
Malayalees to the modern trends and developments of the short 
story in America, France, Russia and other European countries. 
Many of the writers of his generation were his disciples. Ponkunnam 
Varkey, whose attack on clergy and church gave a new twist to 
writing purposeful stories, penned works of critical realism, while 
Pottekkat his contemporary, was a romantic writer. His poetic 
style, love of nature and a romantic approach to men and women 

184/INDIAN literature ; 155 

was warmly received by contemporary readers. 

During this period the Malayalam story came into its own 
and a new dimension was added with the arrival of Vaikom 
Mohammed Basheer. His personalised style was superb: the 
narrative was converted into a slice of life, full of colour and 
gaiety. Human dignity has been one of Basheer's favourite 
themes. He delineated man as man, raw as he is, without bother- 
ing too much about social, economic or other theories. His sense 
of humour lent further charm to his stories. 

Then came Karoor Neelakanta Pillai, a low paid teacher 
who portrayed the plight of the middle class in a simple and 
straight-forward style which made the story a vehicle of spiritual 
enlightenment rather than an indictment of society. The Malaya- 
lam Short Story is also grateful to P.C. Kuttikrishnan who held 
aloft the torch of humanism in his short stories. His narration is 
full of colour and lyricism. Lalithambika Antharjanam is also a 
writer of eminence portraying the lives of high caste Brahmins. 

Basheer, Karur, Kuttikrishnan and Lalithambika are signifi- 
cant links between the old and the new. The modern authors 
made their appearance after India's independence in 1 947. The 
writers up to that period were the products of the national move- 
ments. But the new litterateurs had little experience of national 
movements. They passed through adolescence at a time of 
national upheaval and passionately believed that political free- 
dom would usher in prosperity. These hopes were shattered in 
no time. The progress of literacy to a certain extent also brought 
them in contact with modern European writings, the influence 
of which cannot be belittled . A new technique made its appearance. 
The writers of this period portrayed the individual in distress, 
projecting the point of view of the character and some of them 
even used the monologue to develop the story effectively. The 
accent was on the psyche, the suffering, and the shattered hopes 
of the individuals. These writers were disillusioned and introspec- 
tive. They are the lost generation, their intimate feelings, sorrows 
and dreams led to a style that continues to captivate the imagina- 
tion of Malayalam readers. 

T. Padmanabhan, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Madhavikutty and 
a band of other writers represent the 'moderns'. It is Madhavikutty 

N.p. mohamed/185 

who gave the feminine touch to the characters, in a pungent but 
simple style, bringing feminism into a world dominated by male 
characters. The undercurrents of lyricism make the reading of 
their stories a musical experience. The Second World War left 
its imprint on Malayalam stories. Some youngsters joined the 
army and the new experiences they acquired from their life out- 
side Kerala and the strange people they met made them look 
back with a poignancy and a nostalgia expressed powerfully in 
their stories. Kovilan was the forerunner of this transformation. 
He was followed by Nandanar and Parappurath, depicting the 
life of an ordinary soldier in a strange world torn between 
homesickness and the forced circumstances of life. The stories 
of these modern writers centred on the individual, sketched with 
rare insight. A feeling of frustration and a sense of futility are the 
hallmarks of their characters. 

In a way this was a natural evolution — from psychological 
realism to the philosophical abstraction of life. Existentialism came 
to the rescue of the post-modern writers of the Sixties. Many of 
them were making their livelihood in megacities outside and 
inside India and the alienation they experienced was acute. They 
branded themselves outsiders in a cosmopolitan society. The 
delineation of the individual mind in provincial life thus yielded 
to philosophical perspectives. O.V. Vijayan, Kakkanadan, M. 
Mukundan; Sethu, Punathil Kunhabdulla etc. were the leaders 
of this movement. V.K.N., another writer of eminence, lam- 
pooned society in an inimitable style. M.P. Narayana Pillai por- 
trayed the outsider in an Indian setting giving a twist to the out- 
sider — philosophy of Continental writers. Zacharia wrote stories 
which made skilful use of black humour. 

The pointillist designs of C.V. Sreeraman, the squibs of 
Malayattor Ramakrishnan, the gothic structures of P. Valsala the 
folksy tales of U. A. Khader and the meditative narratives of Anand 
have lent variety and vividness to Malayalam stories. The political 
allegories of M. Sukumaran too are held in high esteem by critics 
and the public alike. 

A group of excellent young writers has since come to the 
fore. No more bound to the philosophical preoccupations of the 
elders, these writers have added an element of fantasy to 

186/iNDIAN literature : 155 

Malayalam short story. Some of them take up environmental 
problems as their major themes. Akbar Kakkatil and T.V. 
Kochubava are writers who use the individual's fantasies to shape 
the form and content of the stories in a bewitching manner just 
as one sees things in a convex mirror. U.K. Kumaran goes deep 
into the circumstances and settings of the individual. N.S. Madha- 
van is another careful writer who enjoys the appreciation of 
discerning readers. There are several other writers like C.R. 
Parameswaran, Sarah joseph, N. Prabhakaran, M.A. Rahman, 
P. Surendran and V.R. Sudheesh who invite our attention. 

There are marked differences in theme, treatment, style, 
tone and flavour of recent Malayalam stories. Some of the very 
young writers use the surrealistic mind of the child to narrate the 
story, defying previous definitions and earning recognition along 
the way. Malayalam Short Story is rising to new hights in the 
hand of younger writers. 

In Memoriant 

ADIGA:(1 9 18-1 992) 



M emories flood in as if Death has thrown open all the sluice 
gates and 1 am swept away. Gasping for breath, I flap my 
limbs vainly, hoping for a foothold. Memories of my association 
with Adiga covering a span of forty years, of the letters we 
exchanged on the theme of poetry, of endless arguments when- 
ever we met and the almost-religious commitment to producing 
literature of the highest order which we shared ... 

It was in the month of November, 1 952 that we met for the 
first time. My first collection of poems, Hridayageetha, had just 
then been published and Adiga had written an Afterword for it. 
We had exchanged many letters in connection with that collec- 
tion. The first letter he wrote acknowledging receipt of the 
manuscript has the following warning: '... I will write the critique 
gladly. But I have to tell you that I will have to be as impartial 
as possible. Of course, the fact that this is your first collection of 
poems will have to be taken into consideration ..." 

I must have reacted to his headmasterly tone with all the 
arrogance of a young poet who was utterly convinced about his 
own genius. I have his response to my letter in which he quotes 
approvingly a line from mine — Even if your opinion is that I 

188/INDIAN literature : 155 

should stop writing poems, let me assure you that 1 will continue 
to write poems — and adds, 'Bravo! This is the spirit I like most. 
In this respect, perhaps in many other respects too, there seems 
to be great temperamental affinity between you and me. I wonder 
how it is that we waited for such a long time to come together 
and become friends. But the time has come and it has come inevi- 
tably. Let us use this friendship for mutual benefit ...' 

I remember the evening in Mysore when we met. He was 
with Biligiri. Adiga had travelled from Kumta for our get-together. 
After countless cups of coffee and cigarettes, we found ourselves 
near the Maharaja College hostel. Just as we were getting ready 
to say goodbye, Adiga took out shyly a sheaf of crumpled sheets 
from his jacket. It was the manuscript of his poem, Himagiriya 

It was past midnight when we parted. The talk of the evening 
and the poem with its apparently disjointed images must have 
affected me, 1 fell of the bed when I turned over in sleep to 
express my disagreement about something he had said ... The 
lump on my forehead took some time to subside. 

We met often after that and the interval between meetings 
was spent in correspondence about poetry. 'Poetry is a perpetual 
discovery of relationships between things that are apparently 
disconnected ...' 'In its final shape, the poetic faculty will be as 
cool as the surgeon's knife and as unfaltering and as sure ...' 'In 
this world in which all people lose their heads and are lost in 
things of the moment, the poet at least should stand as the guar- 
dian of the truth of experience...' 'The maintenance of balance, 
the devotion to emotive facts, the preview of things to come, 
the sure grip over the contemporary events and their true nature 
is the social service the poet renders to society ...' 

Adiga, for whom poetry turned out to be his religion, was 
born into a Brahmin family in 1918 and grew up in Mogeri, a 
small village in South Canara. If the serried lines of the Western 
Ghats and the roar or the murmur of the restless sea represented 
Nature for him, culture came to him in the form of evening 
recitations from Ramayana and Mahabharata and the occasional 
Yakshagana prasangas. 

190/INDIAN literature : 155 

it so that my speech about what poetry came after Bendre's and 
my reading of a poem came after his. The magician that Bendre 
was, he stole the hearts of the gathering with his wit, eloquence 
and histrionics. His rendering of his poems was as passionate as 
his speech. I have never been shouted down as I was on that 
occasion and Adiga, in spite of all his sympathy for me, could 
not come to my rescue as he was one of the hosts. I remember 
standing my ground against all that. Adiga and 1 survived the 
ordeal and were richer because of that traumatic experience. 

We soon had a group of creative young men around the 
movement and Adiga was the undisputed Guru. 1 remember the 
year 1957-1958 when Anantha Murthy, K. Sadashiva, T.G. 
Raghava and A.K. Ramanujan spent almost every evening with 
Adiga "on the lawns of Dasaprakash in Mysore. We read one 
another's writings and discussed their merits. We argued end- 
lessly and went home rather late in the evening bursting with 
new ideas for poems and stories. We were united in our desire 
that words did not usurp the place of meaning and that every 
feeling and every experience was not distorted by simplifying it 
for easy communication. We came from different backgrounds 
and there was no single ideology to which we were all committed. 
We were no card-holders of any party. Nor were we members 
of a religious sect of which Adiga was the Pope ... 

Memories and memories and the meaning of one's relation- 
ship with the dead ... 

I have spoken of my first meeting with Adiga. The last time 
I met him was on the 26th of October. I was due to leave for 
Delhi the following day and I had heard of his wife having suffered 
a stroke the previous night. I had gone there to discuss with him 
the nature of the help that could be organised. He was touched 
and sat there holding my hand. Each one of us fought valiantly 
the tears that swelled up and spoke of the ultimate meaningless- 
ness of life. We talked about the task that a sentient man has to 
perform in order that life has some meaning at the end ... 

I left him with the agreement that we would meet again the 
morning after my return from Delhi to review the situation. 

That morning was notto be. He had died the previous night. 


His last published poem was addressed to his father who 
died over twenty years ago. Some of the lines at the end, loosely 
rendered into English, are as follows: 

... Listen, Father, listen. 

I'm about to set out and reach you 
soon. I have been busy getting things 
ready and everything will be over soon ... 

I am not saying he willed his death. The stroke that felled 
his wife must have broken him. The days ahead must have looked 
like a never-ending stretch of darkness with no promise of light. 

He has left behind him a rich crop of poetry in which the 
poet's self and the world around fused into single entity. We 
must remember him in gratitude for the gift he gave us, though 
diminished as we are by his death. 

Gopalakrishna Adiga 


Prop up this tree, child, though its roots are dead, 
let the branches look as they were before. 

Your throat must be dry with searing grief. Make yourself 
some coffee. There, some dry leaves for the fire. 

Run some water into the basin you built. And boiling 
tears when grief becomes too much to bear. 

Cook the Devil’s dinner in it. Let there be chiroti for dessert and 
with it some kheer. 

Find some coloured bulbs. Let a rainbow swing 
from every branch and twig of the tree. 

Paper flowers in bunches and scented water 
and a gramophone humming like a swarm of bees. 

192/INDIAN literature ; 155 

Don’t say there’s no shade and the branches are hollow. 
What better cover do you need than gold? 

This here is an ancient tree, brother, For death 
by hanging there’s no better scaffold, 

See how the trunk sways when the west wind blows. 

Oh, the echo and the imitation dance! 

Not for this heavenly tree the dirty water of the land, 
it needs the dreamland’s nectar for sustenance. 

Don’t birds come here anymore? Parrot, cuckoo, 
sparrow, owl or even a crow? 

Kill the chicken and string them on the branch 
after stuffing them with some staw. 

Cover the worm-eaten bark with a sheet of gold 
and etch on it the tale of the past. 

‘There was shade here, green shoot, flower and fruit, 
cuckoo’s song and the parrot’s nest. 

‘It was here that the bow throbbed and the conch blared, 
it was here the wheel turned and turned. 

The ascetic’s staff, water pot, the hut with its bed of grass 
they have all been here to adorn our land. 

‘Raise high the flag of ‘have beens’, child, 
let ‘what is’ never give you a heartburn 
See, there’s the tree and gold on it. And there, 
the basin. Fill it with all the water you can.’ 

Translated from Kannada 
by R.S. 

Book Review 



Apne Apne Rama by Bhagwan Singh, Delhi : Manak Publications Pvt. Ltd., 
1992, pp. 306, Rs. 150. 

K ing Rama's story inspired Rishi Valmiki to become a poet 
to write the Sanskrit epic Ramayana and register himself as 
the first Poet of India. He wrote it as if it dealt with his contem- 
porary happening and Queen Sita the tragic victim of the cruel 
separation from Rama, had taken shelter in his own forest abode 
and given birth to the twins, lava and Kusha, who were deprived 
of all the comforts of the King's palace. Late Sumitranandan Pant 
summed up the whole episode to say that poetry is always born 
out of the pains of separation from the beloved. 

Since Valmiki, Rama's tragic story has been interpreted in 
various ways, mainly to prove that Rama was an ideal King a 
"Maryada Purushottam" who lived up to best human ideals as 
established by the Brahmanical social order. The biggest contribu- 
tion to this genre that of Tulsidas whose '' Ramacharjt Manas” 
has become as adorable in north Indian Hindus homes as are 
Bible and Quran for Christians and Muslims, the only Exceptions 
were the works of Jain poets who were critical of Rama's action. 

On the other hand, there were poets who opposed the 
Brahmanical social order with different interpretations of some 
aspects of Rama's life. I dare say that this type of interpretation 
began with the emergence of a renaissance in the latter half of 


the ninteenth century and first half of twentieth century with the 
epic poem of Michael Madhusudan Dutt, entitled "Meghnad 
Vadh" (The Killing of Meghnad). In his erudite essay "Bharat 
Varsher Itihasdhara" (Stream of History of India), Tagore pointed 
out that the key to medieval Indfa could be pin-pointed in the 
story of the struggle of the two Rishis, Vasishta and Vishwamitra, 
and nailed down that Vishwamitra being the Guru (teacher) of 
Rama led to the latter's exile and efforts to deprive him of the 

One of the greatest modern Hindi poets, Maithilisharan 
Gupta, translated "Meghnad Vadh" into Hindi and later, inspired 
by Tagore, composed an epic poem "Saket" (The ancient name 
of the city of Ayodhya) himself, highlighting the tragic fate of 
innocent Urmila, Laxman's wife, who was separated for no rhyme 
or reason from her husband. Gandhiji was not happy with his 
poet-follower who treated Rama, not as a god, but as a human 
being; the poet however refused to change his interpretation. 

In "the age of prose", several writers have attempted to take 
on Rama with a new angle. Top fiction writer, late Yashpal, 
contributed with his story "Bhagwan Ke Pita" (Father of the God) 
and emphasised that the birth of Dashrath's sons was not a 
miraculous result of Vasishta's Yajna, but a niyog performed by 
the innocent young Rishi named Shringirishi whom Vasishta 
brought down from his forest abode into Dashrath's palace. 
The Rishi had so far not even seen a woman. 

An important work was that of Narendra Kohli who under- 
took to re-tell the whole of Rama Katha in many volumes. The 
significance of his work lies in his success in eliminating the super- 
natural events and miracles that have come down to us from the 
epical and popular versions of the story. 

Now Bhagwan Singh presents Rama story with the enlarged 
interpretation that Tagore talked of, under the title "Apne Apne 
Rama” (One's own Rama). The title itself indicated that it is the 
authors way of understanding Rama's story, Bhagwan Singh 
shows us how conspiratorial moves of Vasishta creat complica- 
tions for Rama and for the life in Ayodhya's palace. 

Vasishta came down to Ayodhya from the Kekaya region 
with Queen Kekayi when the latter was married to King Dashrath. 

RAJEEV saxena/1 95 

All the soldiers as well as servants and the priest Vasishta stayed 
on because Kekayi needed them to fulfil her royal desires and 
ambitions. Kekayi needed Vasishta to capture political power of 
the Ayodhya Kingdom for his son Bharat while Vasishta needed 
her to establish his socio-religious hegemony on the social order 
of his times in the Ayodhya region. In a conversation with Lax- 
man, Rama Says : 

"I am not talking of any group of conspirators. To meet it our 
administration is quite capable. But Vasishta is head of a gigantic 
order and holds the strings of a vast propaganda machine. He is a 
poet. He is the head-person of an ossified ideology which might 
be too obstructive and lifeless, but due to its own long-time exist- 
ence, it has become as solid as a mountain stone. He holds the 
reins of a vast propaganda machine which is many hundred times 
bigger than the Ayodhya Kingdom and if we believe Vasishta, it is 
older than the cosmos too. Not to see its strength or merely to try 
to see it off would not be quite prudent." (P. 103) 

Vasishta's poet-like genius tuned many problems by con- 
cocting appropriate stories that white-washed conspiracies and 
made them look quite credible. For example, after the exile of 
Rama, when Kekayi planned to poison her husband King Dash- 
rath, Vasishta spread a concocted story how Shravan Kumar 
cursed the King Dashrath that the latter would meet his death 
after separation from his son. It established that Shravan Kumar 
was taking his blind parents around pilgrimage and at one place 
when he went to a tank for fetching water for his thirsty parents, 
Dashrath shot an arrow blindly thinking that some elephant was 
drinking water and thus killed the faithful son. 

Indeed, the author says at several places by implication that 
Rama was realy afraid of Vasishta's myth-creating and spreading 
power. Was it not that Rama feared that as a consequence of 
the slander spread amongst a section of his people against Sita 
for doubting her loyalty while staying at Ravana's palace, he 
might lose his throne? And was it the reason why Rama exiled 
Sita to Valmiki's ashram? 

Reaching the fag end of the novel with such ideas in mind, 
it is difficult for a reader to swallow Sita's words (told to her 
sons): "The truth is that Rama did not send down Sita to exile. 

196/iNDIAN literature ; 155 

He hid her in his heart — saving her from all accusations and all 
blows. He did not trouble Sita at all but absorbed all her imagined 
troubles multiplying them by tens." (p. 301) 

And this is why the author ends the novel with Sita returning 
to Ayodhya when Rama himself came down to Valmiki's ashram 
to take her with him. Earlier when Laxman and Shatrughna 
requested her to do the same, she refused to do so. Was it just 
a matter of ego only? It is a matter for the author's own mould 
of the story. Otherwise, the most popular belief is that Sita refused 
Rama's request too and took Samadhi inside the earth which 
opened to take her in. 

Neither does the author take note of Rama's internal stirrings 
and tearings that made this great hero to ultimatly drown himself 
in the sacred river, Sarayu. Was it not a finale of the Vasishta 
conspiracy that one of his agents drew Rama down into the water 
when he tried to swim his bath? 

Tulsidas did not take up those incidents from Rama's life 
which could have left any stains of slur on the purity of Rama's 
character, such as the exile of Sita, Rama's defeat at the hands 
of his sons and his death (Samadhi) by drowning in Sarayu. 

But did the author, Bhagwan Singh, also aim at that? Was 
he trying to emphasise that all round purity of Rama's personality 
made him adorable for the mass of people? Or was he simply 
got seared of the current Hindutva movement that could have 
burst a cloud over his head if he had touched such unpleasant 
points? Anyway, the villain of the piece in his work is Vasishta 
while Tulsidas targetted him in Ravana. It must however be noted 
that the best critical evaluation of the Brahminical order, as rep- 
resented by Rama and his Guru Vishwamitra, surfaces in the 
novel under review wherever Rama confronted Vasishta. 

There is not much place here to analyse Bhagwan Singh's 
craft. Every chapter reflects the internal world of a character 
convincingly and beautifully as he/she tells his/her part of the 
story. The well chiselled dialogues are meaningful at various 
levels-historical, social, philosophical and above all, psycholo- 
gical. It is one of the best prose works of this turbulent decade. 

Our Contributors 

Adiga, Gopalakrishna (1918-1992) 

Well known Kannada Poet, novelist and essayist; winner of 
Sahitya Akademi Award for his poetry Vardhamaana in 

BEHL, ADITYA (b. 1966) 

Writes and translates in English; Ph.D student at the Uni- 
versity of Chicago; Editor Penguin New Writing in India. 

Das, Kamala (b. 1932) 

Indo-English poet and Malayalam fiction writer; more than 
13 works in Malayalam; has won Kent Prize, Asan World 
Prize, Kerala Sahitya Akademi and Sahitya Akademi Award 
for Collected Poems in 1985. 

FIRAQ Gorakhpuri (1896-1982) 

Noted Urdu poet and critic; with several important collec- 
tions of poetry; winner of Padma Bhushan, Sahitya Akademi 
Award for his poetic collection GuU-e-naghma in 1960 and 
Bharatiya Jnanpith Award for the same in 1969. 


A feminist fiction writer, chiefly dealing wdth sexuality; her 
first collection published recently has created a sensation. 

Harris, v.c. 

Critic and translator; Reader in English in M.E. University, 

Hasan, Noorul 

Translator; presently professor of English at North-Eastern 
Hill University, Shillong. 

Joseph, Sarah (b. 1948) 

Feminist activist and fiction writer; has authored two 
collections of short stories and a collection of novelettes. 
'Papalhara' contains her best stories written so far. 

Karunae^aran, Pattathuvila (1927-86) 

Short story writer and film producer. A pioneer of Political 
Modernism with 5 collections of short stories; has won 
Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Muni. 

Kunhabdulla, Punathil (b. 1940) 

Author of 13 works of fiction; has won Kerala Sahitya Aka- 
demi award for short story and novel, and Sahitya Akademi 
Award for his novel Smaraka SilakaJ in 1980. 

Madhavan, N.S. (b. 1948) 

A pioneer of post-modem trends in Malayalam short story; 
Author of one collection of stories, a great stylist. 

Mahapatra, Jayanta (b. 1928) 

Poet and critic in English; edited Chandrabhaga and Kavya 
Bharati] published over a dozen books of poems in English; 
winner of Sahitya Akademi Award for Relationship, 1981. 

Mahapatra, Sitakant (b. 1937) 

Oriya poet, essayist, translator and civil servant; published 
over 30 books; won Sahitya Akademi Award for his Sabdara 
Akash, 1974. 

Mohamed, N.P. (b. 1929) 

Journalist, critic and fiction writer with more than 17 works 
of fiction and criticism; has won three awards for fiction 
including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award. 

Mukundan, M. (b. 1942) 

A pioneer of modernism in Malayalam fiction; has authored 
13 works of fiction and one of literary theory; has won M.P. 
Paul Prize, Kerala Sahitya Akademi and Sahitya Akademi 
Award for Daivathinte Vikruthikal, 1992. 

Nadig, Sumatheendra 
Poet and translator. 

Padmanabhan, T. 

A pioneer of the Lyrical mode in Malayalam short story; has 
authored 12 collections of short stories including Saksbi that 
won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1973. 

Parameswaran, C.R. 

Poet and fiction writer; author of the novel Prakriti Niyamani 
for which he won Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award. 

Prabhakaran, N. (b. 1952) 

Has two collections of stories; Kerala Sahitya Akademi 
Award winner for the play Pulijanmam. 

Raveendran, P.P. 

Critic, specialises in women’s studies. 

Sarkar, Subodh 

Young Bengali poet; Editor of Bhashanagar. 

Saxena, Rajeev (b. 1923) 

Hindi poet, playwright, critic, translator and journalist with 
many published volumes and numerous articles; winner of 
Soviet Land Nehru Award, 1979. 

Sharma, Ramchandra (b. 1925) 

Kannada poet, play-wright, short story writer, critic; with 
24 published volumes; recipient of several honours 
including the Government of India Award for the best Radio 
play (1954) and the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi Award 

Sherrie, K.M. (b. 1960) 

Translates from Malayalam into English; teaches English at 
Narmada College of Arts and Sciences, Bharuch, Gujarat. 

SURENDRAN, P. (b. 1961) 

Fiction writer and art critic; has two collection of stories 
and two novels. 


Indo-English poet with one collection; regularly translates 
poems and stories from Malayalam. 

Ummer, C.K. Mohamed 

Translates from Malayalam into English. 

VIJAYAN, O.V. (b. 1931) 

A pioneer of modem Malayalam fiction; has few novels and 
collection of stories; winner of Kerala Sahitya Akademi 
Award and Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Guru- 
sagaram in 1990. 

Zacharia, Paul (b. 1945) 

Journalist, scriptwriter, and fiction writer; a pioneer of mod- 
ernism in Malayalam short story; with five collections of 

Sahitya Akademi's Bi-monthly Journal 





Editorial Board. : 

U.R. Anantha Murthy 
Ramakanta Rath 
Indra Nath Choudhuri 

Editor : 

K. Satchidanandan 





Sahitya Akademi's Bi-monthly Journal 

No. 156 : July-August, 1993 
Vo!.XXXVI, No. 4 

Paintings by : Raj'a Ravi Varma 

(i) The Veena Player 

(ii) Hamsa Damayanti 

(iii) The Intervention of Krishna 

(iv) Malabar Beauty 

Editorial Office : 

Sahitya Akademi, Rabindra Bhavan, 

35, Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi-1 1 0001 . 
Articles in this journal do not necessarily 
reflect the views or policies of the Sahitya 
Akademi. All material is protected by 
copyright and cannot be used in any man- 
ner without the permission of the respec- 
tive authors and the Sahitya Akademi. 

Send your subscription to Sahitya Akademi, 
'Swati', MandirMarg, New Delhi 110001; 
Jeevan Tara Building, 4th Floor, 23A/44X, 
Diamond Harbour Road, Calcutta 700053; 
172, Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalya 
Marg, Dadar, Bombay 400014; 304-305 
Guna Building, Anna Salai, Teynampet, 
Madras 600018; ADA, Rangamandira, 
109, J.C. Road, Bangalore 560002. 

In India inclusive of mailing, single copy, 
fifteen rupees; one year (six issues) eighty 
rupees; three years (eighteen issues) two 
hundred and twenty rupees. Abroad by 
airmail, single copy, seven dollars; one 
year (six issues) thirtyfive dollars; three 
years (eighteen issues) ninety US dollars. 

Edited by K. Satchidanandan and 
published by Indra Nath Choudhuri and 
printed by him at Vimal Offset, 

1/11804 (A-26), Panchsheel Garden, 
Naveen Shahdara, Delhi-110032. 




O.N.V. Kurup/9 
Bansidhar Sarangi/IB 
Thangjam lbopishak/26 



PLAY/ 39 

H.S. Shivaprakash/39 


Copinath Mohanty/60 

G.A. Kuikarni/73 
The Hermit 

Tarakarama Rao/78 

The Parrots 


The Great Graveyard 

Gomathi Narayanan/103 

Pudumaipithan: The Child at the Cremation Ground 
John Oliver Perry/1 1 2 

/ylysticism and Literature: A Sceptic's Inquiry 


K.S. Duggal/135 

Soiled Smoke : The Agony of the Punjabi Writer 
P.K, Rajan/144 

Tolstoy, Lenin and Realism : Some Animadversions 
On The State of Fictional Criticism in India 

Girish V. Wagh/152 

A Misrepresentation : A Response to Namwar Singh 
Anand B. Patil/156 

The Whirligig of Literary Taste : Impact or Alienation 


A.K. Ramanujan (1929-93)/! 70 
Shamsher Bahadur Singh (191-1-93)/! 74 


Readers Responses 

Dilip K. Chakravarty/1 81 
K. Chellappan/184 


Krishna Rayan/1 88 
The Case for Nativism 

Existential Snapshots 

D.B. Pattanaik/1 95 
Presence of the Past 


Paintings & illustrations : Bhaskaran; 
Pramod Ganpatye; V.K. Mohan; 
Santosh Pattanayak 

Here let your word keep time 
with the local native dance 
Bishnu Dey (Bhasha) 





B HALCHANDRA Nemade, the noted Marathi writer 
raised quite a few thought-provoking questions in 
the course of the key-note address he delivered at the 
National Colloquium on Young Indian writing recently 
organised by the Sahitya Akademi: What does it mean to 
be an Indian writer today? What are the challenges he 
encounters and what, the temptations? What did we lose 
in our eagerness to mimic the West? And finally, ‘what 
are the roots that clutch’? 

Indian writers, especially those born just before or 
after Independence inherited their self-perception from 
Western Orientalists and lived on the fantasies of a 
one-dimensional history. We began, quite ironically, even 
to compare our writers to those in the West to establish 
their greatness: Kalidasa was to us the Shakespeare of 
India; but we never bothered to ask who the Kabir of 
England was. Our cultural space was littered with alien 
symbols and exotic signifiers. The ecology of our mind 
lost its balance as we lost our spatial moorings and were 
carried away by the purely temporal dimension of 
experience. And time played tricks on us: it was not the 
long dreamt-of future that greeted us as we grew up, it 
was past, past reborn. And when reality broke in, we 
found our world crude with its caste hierarchies, its 
religious rivalries and its social inequalities. We were 
caught in storms: we were never still enough to blossom. 
Still our best writers managed to tame their own cynical 
rage and retain their creative fire. 

6/INDIAN literature ; 156 

Today, however, the very act of writing is fraught 
with perils. Few writers are able to live by pen alone; 
this forces them to look elsewhere for livelihood and 
thus become part-time writers. They have little time to 
contemplate or to perfect their art. Most books are 
still-born or are condemned to oblivion after a brief span 
of active life. Sensibilities and literary fashions too keep 
changing faster than ever before as new generations and 
new modes cry for recognition. On the other hand, 
potential readers are tempted by electronic mass media. 
Thus is bred a new class of educated illiterates. The 
puerile excitement of superficial entertainment has come 
increasingly to replace the profound pleasure of the text. 
All sermons on the value of books are drowned in the 
wild screams of the pastime-machines that have scant 
regard either for ethics or for aesthetics. Publishers too 
fear to undertake the printing of serious books especially 
by lesser known writers. They prefer the sensational 
low-brow literary merchandise. This hostile atmosphere 
itself produces a literature of discontent, of complaint 
that articulates the writers’ disenchantment with the 
world around. This further alienates the reader who then 
turns to handier, more affordable and less pain-giving 
entertainments. Nemade calls this the ‘alienation 
syndrome’ that our Eurocentric critics are quick to label 
‘existential angst’ or ‘Kafkaesque despair’ — ^though the 
frustration in the West is more a product of affluence 
than of poverty as is the case in India. The writer here is 
not free just to write; he has to toil like a worker-bee to 
build an aesthetic space for his people. Still he cannot 
win unless he has the backing of all. the sub-systems that 
spread, sustain, receive and evaluate literature; the whole 
literary establishment. 

The writer today can no more afford to live in his 
archaic ivory tower, either. New classes, hitherto 
downtrodden, are fast gp’owing literate and have be^u to 
question the claims of the old, cultivated reading elite- 
Their demand for a literature that strives to voice their 

K. satchidanandan/7 

aspirations and frustrations and is accessible to them in 
terms of sensibility and idiom is likely to lead to a major 
aesthetic shift that undermines the notions of the present 
literary aristocracy. Our critics too will have to 
decolonise themselves and rethink their norms as the 
Western critical theories have tried to respond to the 
various political, cultural and philosophical crises 
specific to their societies. Our crises have been different, 
and we will have to evolve our own concepts and theories 
rooted in our social milieu and our literary practice. Our 
neglect of native forms and modes has created only a 
soulless literature of sterile formal perfection. Revivalism 
throve on the tradition we so thoughtlessly abandoned 
while literature degenerated into mimicry. We often 
forgot that styles and techniques cannot be borrowed in 
isolation for behind them are lives full of agony and 
strife. This is as much true of a Joyce or a Pirandello as 
of a Brecht or Beckett. It is dumb and pointless to mimic 
them and write ‘stream-of-consciousness’ novels or 
‘expressionist’ plays without undergoing the creative 
pain behind those stylistic inventions. Prisoners of 
technique also become prisoners of meaning and end up 
manufacturing museum pieces of every variety: a real 
tragedy when this fate befalls genuine talent. And when a 
writer fails on account of his insincerity, he attributes his 
failure to the backwardness of the people’s literary 

Another dilemma of the contemporary writer, says 
Nemade, comes from ‘the recognition syndrome.’ 
Recognition tames writers who ought to have something 
wild and non-conformist in them, while non-recognition 
often produces in the writer a negative view of life. 
Careerism and conscious success-hunting foree the 
writers to abandon their role as the moral interpreters of 
their societies and the real creators of values in their 
language-group. Afterall a genuine writer addresses his 
own immediate society, the people of his language, place 
and time, and not some vague posterity or an imagined 

8/INDIAN literature ; 156 

foreign audience, eventhough he may later be celebrated 
by coming generations or readers abroad. It is the 
ultimate challenge of the writer to stay a truth-teller in 
spite of recognition or want of it, to ‘sing his own God’ 
as Tukaram would say. 


Two major writers who had pioneered thematic and idiomatic 
innovation in modem Indian poetry passed away recently: 
Shamsher Bahadur Singh and A.K. Ramanujan. Both remain- 
ed creatively dynamic to the last moment of their lives and 
would have continued to enrich the world of poetry had death 
not intervened. Indian Literature realises the heaviness of 
their loss and pays its homage to these writers of rare genius. 




Did you stand silent awhile 
tying the rakhi on my wrist? 

Did you turn back and walk away? 

Did the ground bum and fume 
where your tears fell? 

1 didn’t ask, “Who are you?’’ 
though you didn’t even tell your name. 

Yet, that woe-begone look, that speechless pang 
that grief trickling as tears 
and that red rakhi tied round my wrist — 
all plead in wordless words: 

“She is your own little sister!’’ 

Are you my sibling? Of the very same blood? - 
Then your griefs, honour and dishonour — 
all be mine. That tmth 
glowed like embers and its sparks 
spattered into my deeper mind 
when slowly down the steps you went. 
Your silence broke like a vase of glass 
at each crossing of my mind’s pavement 
crashing the truth again and again 
“She is your own little sister!’’ 


Your grief and anger and deep feelings 
of loss and despair and that sense 
of helpless loneliness 
rolled like waves to break aloud 
on my mind’s shore; 

“She is your own little sister.” 

You are the one who is 
burned alive and charred 
in the leaping flames of 
a bursting gas-cylinder 
and turn a routine piece of 
column news. 

You are the earthen cup 
thrown to bits 
after the tea is sipped 
and thirst quenched. 

You are the one 
who observes a life-long sati 
in the shuttered cell 
of an alien house; 
who plays the mother's role 

O.N.V. KURUP/1 1 

to rear the younger ones 
and bears this lifelong burden. 

You are the one tossed as a bribe 
into a boss’s bed; 
the one, whose very bodily grace 
■ invites tragedy. 

You are the one, who, 
while your breasts swell with milk, 
leaves your babe somewhere else 
to struggle and sweat 
for feeding several mouths; 
who is doomed to bury fancies and dreams 
with a silent prayer on your lips. 

You blossom as a flower 
for cankei: to devour. 

You, the one sentenced for life 
to languish as an idol enshrined 
in a prayer-cell. 

You are the one with the smouldering soul , 
witnessing your children play 
the killing game among themselves. 

You, the one who thins by degrees 
likd sandal paste on a grindstone 

12/iNDIAN literature •• 156 

and bums like cedar 
to turn into fragrance 
for others to relish. 

You are the one shot down by 
the laws of the wild, 
the rich and the monarchs; 
who descends into the earth’s womb 
seeking refuge 
turning away from the man 
who is bound to protect you. 

You are Mother, Wife and Daughter 
you are the earth and the cosmic power, 
my very blood, my little sister! 

I touched the rakhi 
that throbbed red 
like your own deeper veins 
and feel your very pulse — 
now I know who you are. 

May my words suck dry 
all your woes 

and invoke the infinitely auspicious power 
latent in you. 

O.N.V. kurup/13 


Come back, O Black Sun! 

The ship glides 
over the dead sea of darkness 
raising its crest; the eagle wings 
of Liberty. 

The crow-cawing of souls 
looted by southern gales 
now rends the air everywhere. 

The city-crowds dance in frenzy 
Beating drums, kettle drums and Tom Toms. 
Black ants once consigned to embers 
creep back with bodies uncharred. 

The ghoul of White Civilization 
whose navel is still a goldmine 
gnashes her teeth. 

The Veil of white clouds, tearless and sterile 
flashing summer lightning 
is now tom asunder. 

Emerge now, O Black Sun 
as the light of the earth, as the heart’s warmth. 
May we now watch with eyes wide open 
you ascent, long-cherished by our hearts. 
Like the wind waxing eloquent 

14/INDIAN literature ; 156 

over his tumbling into the stinking gutter 
a black youth roams the pavements 
where huts have mushroomed 
to form clutters like anthills. 

In a harsh, grating voice 
his lips hum a folk-song: 

“The White Man killed my father, 

My father was proud. 

The White Man seduced my mother 
My mother was beautiful. 

The White Man burnt my brother 
beneath the noonday sun. 

My brother was strong. 

His hands red with black blood 
The White Man turned to me; 

And in the conqueror’s voice said, 
“Boy! a chair, a napkin, a drink.”* 

Such was the breed of those men 
who sat on those chairs 
for whom mother or sister meant little 

* “The White Man” by David Diop quoted in full 


raised white 

the milk nf k oozes 

T^ey snatcheda^J'l''’‘''‘‘^- 

of your life. 

the blooming season 


"’=y threw out faf , ""’""S cup 

chained u„ frc"” »u 

="^-n3asedasl’;°“;" = ''=*<iun3eon' 

from fte if™"® 

*he cidm®' ®°“'' children 


the barhinotL rT streets 


•frcrapiuTOurr^^ "“''ad 
°n the loft off our hi 



Yet, nothing would break your bond 
with your soil, its scent and hue 
and with the blacks who crawl about in chains 
the thirst for freedom blazing in their souls. 

Nights that lengthen without any hint of the dawn to come! 
Dear ones who never knew 
when they’ll see you again. 

Cells whose doors are shut one by one 
and it never known when they’ll open again. 

TTiere you sat in long penance 
like the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree 
Seeking the total liberation 
of the mortal humans from miseries. 

The sobs of the tormented blacks, 
the greetings of those 
who hold freedom to be above 
the reckonings of colour, creed or nationality 
and the hopes for the day 
when all fetters snapped and fell— 

All these swelled up and seeped into your cell. 

Now come, O Black Sun 
and bid us watch with eyes blooming 
your lustrous rising, 
the dream of the world’s heart. 

The Seven Seas sing songs praising 
the saga of the great lion-hunters. 

This dark continent, holds out 
palmyra and mahogany of the jungle 
as nature’s monuments to the lion 
bom and bred in the fabled Tempu clan. 

The wind too roars querying: 

How far away are the sacred springs 
of Liberty? 

We were together with her 
even when Africa groped in the dark 
like an accursed one, unable to reach 
those sacred springs for ages. 

Wasn’t it here on this very soil 
that our Grandfather had his initiation too 
fighting the White racists, making an offering 
of a pair of his front teeth, 
for chanting the mantra of Liberty. 

We shall be with you till 
the last slave in the land is freed! 
Come, ressurect, and lead your people 
braving pain, and fare forward 
with steadfast mind and head held high, 
to the Heaven of Freedom! 

Come, now, O Black Sun! 

(Dedicated to Nelson Mandela) 

Translated from Malayalam by R. Viswanathan 



Before acquaintance turns to intimacy 
the sun goes down the hill 
TTie poor old boatman is left behind 
in the chasm between the river banks. 

In the broken branches of age 
is the stupefied poet 
the sailor in the womb of the boat 
And who knows when 
time slips away from the closed fist? 

Who knows when 

pages are tom from the first alphabet book? 

No one awakes 
neither the unwary father 

nor the son readying himself at the outbreak of war 
Time rolls on as usual 
along the fated ruts. 

The woodpecker must keep on 
hacking the live tree 
Time will rush head-on 
Is there deliverance in whatever one does? 

The boatman spends his days and nights 
on the dry river-bed 
His life at the water’s edge 

Why should he keep count of the successes of history? 

Undoubtedly the sun will reappear 
But who can reassure 

that the old boatman and the dumb poet both 
would be at their own places still? 



When, like a scrap of white paper 
the sunset sky is burnt to ash, 
hunger quivers in the broken grains of rice 
in Sudama’s sling; 
the beggar-woman’s head hangs 
like a lock under the eaves 
of someone’s closed door. 

The evening, like a crippled polio victim, 
hobbles into the temple at the village’s end. 
At night, words empty their letters 
on the banks of Chitrotpala and Banshadhara, 

all relationships lose their arrogance. 
And when time goes by, 
the cells of manhood become lifeless.- 
Can one recognise another then. 
Can Alexander know Puru 
or Duryodhana Sakuni? 

Because the boat drifts into mid-river, 
the fishergirl 'is troubled; 

20/INDIAN literature : 156 

one remembers the poet Mansingh’s “Moonlight Stroll” 
in the haunted net of old Parashara. 

Poet, can you stop the swift current of time? 

It is neither mine nor yours, or anyone’s. 

Look at yourself in time’s looking glass. Poet — 
see how Hastina and Barunabanta 
lie buried in earth since who knows when. 

In the palace of the river 
the boat’s stillness lasts only a moment, 
purposeless worries come rushing in; 
history slips from the helpless 
old boatman’s loose fingers. 

Blood stains in the water 
Over the hedges the sun’s restlessness 
I cannot touch your feet, God 
The boat trembles in the full pitcher 
The pitcher of sunlight 
sinks abruptly in the water. 

God! I have so much doubt in your power. 

Death being your rival, 
it might exult in its pride 
to subdue you with ease. 

Note . MayadharMansingh.Oriya poet, whose poem “Moonlight Stroll 

by the Mahanadi” was very popular in its time. 



Everything appears upside down 
as one searches for one’s glasses. 

Some unknown sailor 
unties the crumbling boat of the moon, 
as the arakha flowers unnoticed. 

The old man gathers together 
his days of fasting and ritual, 
stirring his familiar sins and virtues, 
talks to his silence with bruised, wounded words. 

Like a scarecrow in a paddy field 
the old man sits alone in a vast universe, 
the previous spirit 
no more there in his rheumy eyes. 

When the sun hangs from a bird’s wings 
words are tom in the old man’s lips, 
a flood of grief 

sweeps across the broken bridge of darkness. 

22/INDIAN literature ; 156 

Only the poor old man 
tosses about in his dark cage. 

Who knew that such a time would come? 
So from the mother’s womb 
one would have thought up ways 
to get through the mazes of life! 

The old man failed, 

unable to accomplish anything in his life 
The nver slowly ate away the earth 
so much so that the huge tree was uprooted, 
and as though unaware,, raced on ahead. 

But Who would speak to the frisky river? 

Had the old man known the language of ageing, 
had he known that beginning and end both were one, 
he would have taken shelter under 
the mountain, Govardhan, long long back. 

But who would bother 
to speak of these things to the old man? 




Old age is here before us, 
like history. 

But it’s not possible 
to make that honoured guest go back 
from the shield of these glasses. 

Age turns wet in twilight 
There is no urge to go back. 

Ahead lies the ochre ribbon of the road 
And behind, the deep sighs from mountain cave 
Nearby, mellowed leaves fall from the aged tree 
While vain history kneels on the river’s edge of time. 

Old age lasts a moment only 
The wick drops from the lamp when one’s time is over 
And from the river-mouth of darkness 

24/INDIAN literature : 156 

the dark man will come with his boat 
to pull along with him, 
crushing the earth’s glories. 


The ripe age of Dwaraka mourns 
when Jara readies his bow, 
Parikshita is dead by the snake-bite of time. 

Beyond the horizon’s hedge 
is the ruined garden of the ageing sunset. 
The old man sits on top of the bald mountain 

looking out at the watercourse down below: 

Who has set afloat those countless boats? 

Where is the sailor? Where the wind? 

There is not even the hint of relationship with the river. 

Still the old man sits on calm 
as if no one has come or gone, 
or anything had happened or was about to happen. 
Like an absent-minded Siva 
he sits still: 
this old man. 



In the defeat of the old poet 
the roofs of the alphabet collapse, 
the hands of the clock are uprooted in fear. 
In the gale of hardship 
the spokes of the umbrella are tom apart 
Closer to one’s name is death 
Lines move away further from their words. 

The moonlit night is tom 
like the socks of my little daughter 
The poet’s language is swathed 
in colour, beauty, tone and sound 
The eternal prison 
The owls’s fixed stares 
The Passionate circling of vultures 
With all these are stringed 
the poet’s victory and defeat. 

In the days first hour 
the sun hangs down 
A few nameless flowers have blossomed 
at the comers of this field spread out 
like a green handkerchief; 
as though varied words from various poets 
now lie scattered across the earth. 

The words of the wise poet 
clothe defeat in victory’s attire, 
pushing it into the arena, 
into the cruel well of the underworld. 
And yet, the old poet needs defeat 
He wishes to be crucified 
with the sharp nails of malice, 
this old and wise poet. 

Translated from Orixja by Jai;anta Mahapatra 



Now in this land 
One cannot speak aloud 
One cannot think openly 
So poem, 

Like a flower I sport with you. 

Before my eyes, incident upon incident. 
Awesome, trembling 
Walking yet sleeping 
Eyes open but dreaming 
Standing yet seeing nightmares 
In dreams in reality 
Only fearsome shivering instances 
So around me closing eyes 
Palms on ears 

Moulding the heart to a’mere thing of clay 
I write poems about flowers. 

Now in this land 
One should only think of flowers 
Dream of flowers 
For my small baby, my wife 
For my job 

To protect myself from harm. 



For six months just head without body, six months just 
body without head, has any one seen a land inhabited by 
these people? 

No? I have; it’s not a folk-tale; not only seen but I’ve 
been to that land. 

For six months to talk and to eat is their work; like a 
millstone grinding. The following six months Bhima devouring 
and Shakuni suffering; for the headless body only shitting is 
its share. The head talks, eats, drinks; just talking, eating, 
drinking. While the body is working, labouring, shitting; work, 
labour, shit. To sweat, to be bone-weary. In the land of the 


Do women live in that land? How does the species of 
women look like? 

There are women; there are children. The same goes for 
woman too, half and half body. They have long hair like the 
women of our land. They are big, tall, buxom, broad and 
well-proportioned. As for clothes they hang them below the 
waist. A body hidden by clothes is not permitted by the law 
of the land. When the body dwells for six months it’s 
springtime for them. (Since the bodies are headless when the 
men and the women meet they are not fastidious). The 
head-only gives birth within six months. Besides talking and 
eating the mouths of the women also deliver babies. The 

28/INDIAN literature : 156 

women have more attributes than the men. 

That is why the women have no teeth. God created them 
with ingenuity. 

When the head walks its two broad fanlike ears spread 
wide and it flies like a bird, beating its wings. When they 
speak we can comprehend their language; they speak the 
language of men. But when the headless body speaks, a 
voice which a stranger cannot recognize emits from an orifice 
of the body. This voice is also accompanied by an odour. 

Such a one as this land is in the news; a land much 
talked about. The moon shines at night; the sun shines in the 
afternoon. There is no predicament of poverty; dearth of food 
and clothes is unknown. Some men even surpass Kuber. The 
earnings of the body’s sweat of six months, the six month-old 
head eats up with a vengeance. 

There are political rights, a government is set up in this 
land. Democracy functions with total success. An election is 
held every five years. But for the people in this land there are 
no names. So for the nameless citizens the nameless 
representatives govern the land of the half-humans. Because 
whether to give human names to the head or to the 
body ^they cannot decide. Such a one as this land is very 
much in the news, a land much talked about. 



Like the body of a middle-aged women 
Languid on its back it lies 
In a field of clouds 
A March evening. 

Butterflies flutter 
To the tender sway 
Of bare-headed trees 
On twin slopes of hills. 

And to my body 
The warm blood 
Of Stone Age man 
Relentless, rushes. 

From a branch 
Of these bare-headed trees 
A startled bird 
Takes wings 
In a fitful gust 
When I open my eyes. 

In a startled gush 
Also overflows 
The warm blood 
Of Stone Age man. 

30/INDIAN literature ; 156 


Manipur, I love your hills marshes rivers 
greenfields meadows blue sky. 

Why shouldn’t I love them? 

I never had a quarrel with them. 

When I scold I’ve never seen the hills indignant 
the rivers never retorted; 

When do you hear the sky speak with hurt? 
Who else is there if you don’t blame them 
you cannot speak against men. 

But your hill-grown, valley-nurtured 
sweet fruits flowers corns grains I love; 

Not because I get to cat them for free 
even if I do not get to eat them 
they never say they will cat me up. 

Fruits never bite men 
flowers never suck blood. 

Manipur, your hills marshes rivers fields 
meadows blue sky I love; 

Who can I love 
if I do not love them? 

They are not insects mosquitoes flies or leeches. 
Fields never become citizens of this country 
we never hear of rivers parading as leaders; 
Those who don heads 
and remove them again, 
those whose hands remain still 
when they open their mouths, 
those whose .mouths remain silent 
when their hands pilfer; 

Trifling with us through the years repeatedly 
they turn us upside down at will! 

But your hills marshes rivers trees bamboos 
emerald fields open spaces I truly love. 



Who planted all these trees 
In your woods? 

Graceful maidens 
Without a strip of clothing 
Locking arm with arm 
Standing in clusters, 

And these leaty trees 
Wrapped with vines. 

Who is the fairer 
I cannot say. 

In the east 

The sun spreads its folded clothes. 
Ochre-washed waves and water 
Are splashed across the sky. 

The swishing leaves 
Of the green trees 
Swim in the coloured sea 
When the wind blows. 

These unclothed maidens 

Winking at one another 
Do they beckon a stranger 
When they recognize me as one? 
No, I cannot come 
These layers of clothes 1 wear 
Keep me bound. 

How can I remove them just like that. 


These firm shackles 
That the years have wound. 

The voiceless trees 
The speechless sky 
In an arcane language of signs. 
What are they talking about? 
No, I cannot come. 

Why do you beckon 
When you know I’m a stranger. 

I also want 

To swim the expanse of colour 
To frolic in abandon, 

To race with the wind’s fitful gusts 
Imitating the birds of your woods. 
Without clothes myself 
I want to play. 

Arms across shoulders, 

With these naked anonymous maidens 
Drinking the wine of hues 
And get drunk as one 
On the wind’s inebriant. 

I also want it; 

But how will I shed 
With ease, without inhibitions 
These layers of clothes. 
Goodbye comely woods. 

I return to artificial humanity. 
Goodbye woods. 

' Some among them say: 

Volcano, stay sleeping you cannot explode 
Volcano, stay asleep you cannot become angry. 
Some among them say again; 

Lava, remain slumbering you cannot stir 
■Lava, remain slumbering you just cannot wake up. 

Inside the dark bolted cages 
How will they bear, eyes closed, feet bound, 

They who wished to soar at will in the sky’s pristine air 
These fledglings, the children of gods? 

Pour in filth, pour in feces, 

By heaps the sinful wrongs to fill up 
The clear depths of the earth to the brim; 

For future generations too,ifor the years and centuries 
Create an unregenerate rotten society; 

Then say, Volcano, you cannot explode 
Lava, you cannot open your eyes. 

34/INDIAN literature : 156 

Only yesterday’s child 
In the eyes of their mothers, their fathers, 
Precious gems tied to their cloaks 
Leaving in their place only copious tears 
Where have they all gone? 

Pour in the dirt, the filth. 

The unholy misdeeds heap upon heap 
Then look, theri look your fill; 

At the foothills of wild mountains 
They who soar beyond the cage 
These pure children of gods, the birds. 
Blood pouring from their bodies 
Their pinions unhinged 
After wallowing in pain in the hill’s dust 
How they made their last journeys. 

Of the infinite blue sky 
They have left a dream unrealized. 

Translated from Manipuri by Robin S Ngangom 

The Second Tradition 



Those who day and night give sermons 
On religion and dogma, 

Each morning begin their day uttering lies. 
Lies they embroider at dawn, 

At dusk they weave the web of lies; 

Lies have found a snug abode in their heart. 

They know nothing about God; 
According to their own notions 
They propagate dogmas 
Based on Vedas and Puranas, 

But do not follow 
What the scriptures command. 

TTiey continue to bum 
In the world’s blazing furnace. 

Whose fire never abates. 

To otHers they sing about God, 

The One without attributes 
But without realizing Him 
They are themselves lost; 

In the end, earth returns to earth 
And air into air dissolves. 

Bijak, Ramaini 61 
Dharam Katha jo kahte 

36/INDIAN literature ; 156 


Friends, this is the city of the dead. 

Holy preceptors have died here, 
Incarnations have died, 

So too have died adept yogis. 

This is the city of the dead, my friends. 

Mighty rulers have died. 

And the ones over whom they ruled; 

Great physicians have died. 

And the ones they healed. 

This is the city of the dead, my friends. 

The moon will die. 

So will die the sun; 

The earth will die. 

So will die the sky. 

Even the strong headmen 
Of the fourteen forts will die; 

Then who can hope to survive? 

This is the city of the .dead, my friends. 

The nine are dead. 

The ten are dead. 

So too are dead the eighty-eight thousand. 

The three hundred and thirty-three million are dead. 
Such is the infallible noose of death. 

This is the city of the dead, my friends. 

The Name of the Nameless One 
Lives and will ever live. 

But all that is created will die. 

For this is the city of the dead, my friends. 
Says Kabir: Realize the Truth, friends. 

Do not die again and again in delusion. 

Salt Kabir, Shabd 318 
Sadho ih murde ka gam 



Around your neck is a sacred thread, 

But there is no dearth of thread in rhy house — 
I daily weave it into cloth. 

You study Vedas and chant ga\;atri, 

While the Lord himself 
Resides in my heart. 

On my tongue dwells the Lord, 

In my eyes dwells the Lord, 

And the Lord alone dwells in my heart. 

O deluded one. 

When you are questioned 
At the door of death. 

What avail will be 
Your taking God’s Name? 

O pious Brahmin, 

We are like cows, you the cowherd; 

You are man’s guardian at every birth. 

But you never take us across 
To graze on the banks of bliss; 

What sort of guardian are you? 

You are a holy Brahmin 
And I, a poor weaver of Kasi — 

Why ask what my knowledge is? 

You are engaged in begging 
From monarchs and kings. 

And I, merely in the devotion 
Of my Lord. 

A.B. Asa, p. 482 
Ham garh sut 

38/INDIAN literature : 156 


You fashion gods and goddesses 
Out of earth and stone; 

Mercilessly you cut 
The throats of living beings 
To appease them. 

If your deity indeed craves flesh, 

Why does she not eat it 
Wliile it is grazing in the pastures? 

Says Kabir : Listen, my friends. 

Keep yourself always engaged 
In repetition of the Name. 

Whatever deeds you do 
To gratify your palate. 

In return you’ll have to pay 
A heavy penalty. 

Bijak, Shabd 70 

Jas musu pasu kee tas mdsu nor kee 
(Courtesy : V.K. Sethi, ‘Kabir the Weaver of Gods Nome ) 
Translated from Hindi by V.K Sethi 

40/iNDIAN literature : 156 

[A room in the interior of Madhavj's sea-side mansion. Roar of 
the stormy sea in the background. Darkness on stage when the 
play opens. Seivi enters with a light and begins to light the lamps 
in the room one by one while she sings the following song. 
Seated at the side, two musicians, prepare their instruments.] 

Seivi : Evening ends and night descends 

I go lighting the lamp 
Black clouds scowl and rough winds howl 
I breathe life into the damp. 

Valli! Valli! Where the hell has she disappeared? It 
is getting late for the play. The musicians are here 
already. Where is this female? 

Light of life! Sparkle and shine 
In the black bosom of the night 
Let the rough winds roar 
But the lamp burn bright 
Uhl Thick black clouds in the horizon ... and the 
wild roaring sea below ... In a little while there will 
be rain enough to drown the world ... Even in the 
thick of this rain, my mistress rhust have nascent 
sumrher in this room ... But this room has such 
huge windows. They let rain water pour in ... you 
can see the clouds through them and this ruins our 
world of fantasy ... What is the matter? Where is 
this girl, Valli? The musicians are seated here 
already. The mistress might walk in any time now. 
How many things can I do alone? Do I light the 
lamps or shut the windows? Valli! Valli! (Valli enters) 

• Sister! Oh Sister! It's a feast day for all the fishing 

folk on the coast today. That bronze-bodied gallant 
has brought home a fish as large as a house. I 
believe a pretty fishermaid had promised to wed 
him if he brought home such a fish from the stormy 

Aha! Is that mouth of yours just a mouth or a whole 
town? 1 have been yelling out your name for such 
a length of time. If you go on like this instead o 

Seivi : 

H.S. shivaprakash/41 

calling you 'Valli', I'll start calling you 'the deaf one' 
in the future. 

Sure! Do it by all means! If I am deaf, I'll never 
hear you call me 'the deaf one'. 

Oh you! Chatter-box! I called you because ... 

I know! I know! To shut those windows so that we 
don't see the wild dance of the waves or the terrify- 
ing forms of the clouds. 

Let off! The mistress will be here anytime now. She 
will remain sleepless the whole night if there is the 
slightest lapse in the setting for the play. Nor will 
she let us sleep. 

How I wish I had been born in that broken hut on 
the sea-shore instead of being this rich lady's maid! 
Then, you and your mistress couldn't have stood 
between me and the sea. 

What was that you said? 

Don't get angry now. Here, off I go. 

And don't forget the other thing. Give the baby this 
drug so that she sleeps peacefully. If the baby cries 
in the middle of the play, it will ruin the heroine's 
mood and break the illusion. 

(Valli makes faces at Seivi as she leaves.) 

Crazy girl! She'll be alright when she finds a lover. 
Uh . . . It's time already. Let me go over the prepara- 
tions for the play again. Lighting . . . neither too dim, 
nor too bright, but just enough to provoke feelings 
of separated love. Ready. Pictures depicting various 
moods of separation through different scenes of 
summer. There! Look at that lovely picture of 
Krishna, the cow-herd, standing under a leaf-less 
tree, playing the flute while he waits for Radha in 
the scorching sun. I have hung it where all eyes 
can see it. Priceless jewels worthy of the rich pain 
of separation ... They lie waiting right here for the 
heroine. Incense sticks of mild jasmine fragrance. 
Ponni has lighted them already. In short, a back- 
ground suitable for the acting of separated love has 

42/iNDIAN literature : 15() 

Seivi ; 

Madhavi ; 
Seivi ; 
Madhavi ; 

been created. The heroine of the story, Tny Mistress 
Madhavi, is waiting for my signal. 

(She signals to the Musicians to begin. The Musi- 
cians begin to tap on the drum.) 

Madhavi! Mistress! Hurry up. It is getting late. Let 
me deck you up. 

(Madhavi makes a theatrical entry walking to the 
rhythm of the drum. Her hair is loose.) 

Seivi, did you scold Pooni? 

No, 1 didn't. Mistress. 

Then why was my bath water scalding hot? It is 
only when she has been scolded that she takes out 
her anger like that. 

Seivi : The mistress has spoiled her. I will teach her a 

proper lesson tomorrow. 

Madhavi ; Spare her. It is not such a great crime ... But when 
the bath-water is so hot my body becomes restless 

withyearning. It hinders the aesthetics of our waiting 

and preparation. 

(Sits down in a theatrical manner and speaks in a 
changed voice.) 

Come! Beautify my hair made untidy by the anxiety 
of waiting. 

Seivi ; 1 will, mistress. 

H.S. shivaprakash/43 

Madhavi ; 

Madhavi ; 

Selvi : 
Madhavi : 
Selvi ; 

Madhavi : 

Selvi : 
Madhavi ; 

Selvi : 
Madhavi : 

Selvi : 
Madhavi : 
Selvi : 

Madhavi : 

Check if the Samrani’ fragrance in my hair is mild 

(Selvi comes close and enacts smelling her flowing 

Get a good whiff and tell me. My kovala finds it 
unpleasant when the fragrance is too strong. 

It is just right .. as tender as your love. 

You are not saying that to flatter me, are you? 
Certainly not. if I did any such thing, the hero of 
our story will expose my 'treachery towards the 
heroine and then, the two of you will make me the 
villain of the piece. 

Oh no! It's getting late. He'll be offended if every 
thing isn't ready. 

Shall I start tying your hair, then? 

How will you tie my hair today? Will you plait it or 
make a knot? Kovala prefers a different style each 
time. When I put my hair up, he says 'Madhavi, 
why haven't you plaited your hair today? Your plait 
is like our love-bond.' 

And when you plait it, he says, "Madhavi! Your 
plait is like a rope. Why didn't you make a knot?" 

The trouble is, I have not kept any secrets from you 
... (Enacts thinking for a while) I'll have my hair in 
a knot today. What kind of a knot will you make? 
One that will suit your- lover's mood. 

(Madhavi enacts sitting before a mirror) 

Tell me, Selvf. What mood does this mirror express 

Tell rhe what your mood is, now. A mirror has no 
moods. Its mood is that of the face it reflects, and 
that face expresses the mood of separation. 

You can see my darling in me as clearly as you can 
see my face in that mirror, (biting her tongue) No, 
that was a slip. 1 meant to say, my darling's face 
mirrors every moment of life more clearly than this 

^ A kind of incense. 

44/INDIAN literature : 156 

mirror reflects the expression on my face. 

Seivi ; But, mistress, how can anything reflect better than 

a mirror? 

Madhavi : Look into this mirror. My left eye appears to be my 
right eye and my right eye appears my left one. You 
won't see such a reversal in my darling's mirror- 
face. Seivi, what hair-style would suit this mood of 

Seivi •; Not having your hair done at all. 

Madhavi : That sort of ungarnished look would suit those 
unfortunate women who are permanently separa- 
ted from their lovers. But mine isn't such barten 

separation. Mine is full of hope. What hair would 
suit that kind of a mood? 

Seivi : If you ask me, it is your face which has the power 

to express the feeling of hopeful separation, not 
your hair. When hopes materialize, where is the 
need for a hair-do? 

Madhavi ; Don't prick me with such thorny words ... Come, 
start working on my hair before my throat gets 
hoarse and my eyes fill with tears. 

Seivi ; (Signalling to the musicians to start a tune and a rhy- 

thm) Start singing. We will continue.our acting (Seivi 
arranges the hair working in a theatrical manner). 

H.S. shivaprakash/45 

Musicians : "Blacker than the clouded stormy night 
Is the colour of your hair 
Brighter than the bright white lightening 
Is the sparkle of your hair 
More luminous than the emerging moon 
Is the glow on your face. 

More soothing than the milky moon-light 
Is the cool of your moon-like face". 

(Thinking that the hair-do isn't finished yet, the 
musicians begin the opening stanza again). 

Seivi : Stop it, stop the song. The sequence for that song 

is over. 

Madhavi : Yes, it's over. Let me see how skilfully you have 
arranged my hair. Seivi, hand me another mirror. 
(Seivi enacts bringing another mirror and holding it 
behind Madhavi's head^ 

Madhavi : (To the Musicians) Now, keep humming a tune 
which can evoke desire even in a stony heart. Well- 
done, Seivi: The grief of separation had sent my 
hair flying like clouds in all directions. You have 
tied them together and made them look like the 
udders of the sacred cow, Kamadhenu. My hair 
feels like it is hanging loose though it is tied up. 
And the pearls encircling it hardly seem to be there. 

46/INDIAN literature : 156 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi ; 
Madhavi : 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

like little lamps, frightened by the dark, stormy 
night, burning feebly insfde tiny houses. How did 
your fingers acquire such skill? 

When they touched your fine, silky hair. 

Don't flatter me, Seivi. Take this mirror away. The 
truth is, my darling notices my hair only when I 
pretend to be angry. When he first comes before 
me, it's only my face that he notices, Seivi! I can 
see Kovala's face now. 

If only you had got a portrait of his made and pjaced 
it here, even the likes of us who aren't in love with 
him could have seen his face. 

An artist from the land of Cheras was making such 
a portrait. But I stopped him mid-way. 

Why did you do that? 

So that people like you didn't get jealous ... Sorry ... 
Help me remember the lines I am supposed to speak. 
'Before my mind's eye ... 

Yes. I remember. I was forgetting the rules of art 
and falling victim to the uncertainties of reality. 
Thanks for waking me up. (Bringing theatrical emo- 
tion back to her voice) ... so that, another's brush 
didn't capture the face .. so that, the face didn't 
haunt other eyes . . . There, his face is so clear before 
my mind's eye. 

Even he, who must be on his way to your house 
this moment, must see that face of yours which we 
don't see. 

Yes, 1 can see him see it. I can hear his heart beating 
for me. (Signalling to the musicians to be quiet) Yes, 

I hear only that, (sound of a mighty wave dashing 
against the shore) ... louder than the sound of that 
mighty wave ... louder than the tempest that un- 
leashes it ... Kovala is telling his driver, "Driver, 
why didn't you teach your lazy horses the unique 
art of swallowing the entire distance instead of cov- 
ering it like this?" I can hear the thunder. 1 hope 
he doesn't get soaked in the rain. 

H.S, shivaprakash/47 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi ; 
Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi ; 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi ; 

Musicians : 

He will come faster than the rain. 

How unexpected rain is in this season! 

But, Mistress, it's early summer now. (Signalling to 
the musicians to continue humming) come, sit here. 
Let me add one more ornament to your face which 
is itself an ornament in the world of love. Let me 
draw on your forehead the design of a flame which 
burns with the intensity of your lover's passion. 
Alright then. Make the design of a flame. 


What do you mean? 

I, certainly, won't. Whenever 1 drew a flame on 
your forehead, in the past, you used to flare up and 
shout, "Idiot! why did you make this design? Why 
didn't you draw the crescent moon that my darling 
likes. Why didn't you draw a star?" You have been 
angry with me about it so often. 

True. But I don't like it when my darling likes some- 
thing because 1 like it rather than like what he likes. 
How do I draw something which both of you like? 
... Yes, I have it. I'll make a design which both of 
you will like. 

Make it, then. Be careful! Don't end up making a 
design which both of us dislike. 

At your command, mistress! (To the musicians) Do 
you remember the song you are supposed to sing 
now? (Makes Madhavi sit down and begins to draw 
the design on her fore-head.) 

"Flame of life 

Blazing in the palm of night 
Keep burning, oh light 
Source of all delight. 

Dark, blind sky 
Thirsting for your light 
Makes room in his lap 
For stars shining bright 

Gazing on you night after night 

48/INDIAN literature : 156 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 

Seivi : 
Madhavi ; 
Seivi ; 
Madhavi ; 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi ; 

With million tireless eyes 
Gathered in a radiant fair 
Right across the times. 

Keep burning, oh light, 

Mother of all delight." 

Musicians, I haven't finished my design though you 
have finished your song. "Gazing on you night after 
night, with million tireless eyes ..." 

Your mind is caught up in the words of the song. 
That is the fate of words. Instead of showing some- 
thing else, they begin to show themselves. Musi- 
cians, leave the words and sing only the Raga. A 
Raga is closer to the inexpressible than words are. 
(Seivi finishes her design while the musicians hum 
a tune) 

Mistress, now ask your mirror to tell you who likes 
the design glowing on your forehead. 

How clever you areTYou have expressed both our 
desires in this one design on my forehead. A flame 
surrounded by stars ... as though a light from the 
earth has ascended to the skies and is burning in 
those starry heights ... or as though the stars from 
the sky have come down to the earth to see the 
■flame of my life burning for my lover and have 
gathered round it. 

Didn't you notice the two meteors among the stars? 
Where? Where are they? 

In your glowing eyes. 

(Getting up and moving round in a happy dance) 
Before my eyes burn themselves out like meteors, ■ 
come and deck me up with the jewels he likes. 
What will you wear? Tell me which his favourite 
jewel is. 

1 feel too shy to say that. 

I know! I know! You are that jewel, aren't you? 
How do you deck up a jewel with jewels? 

How wicked you are? The intensity of our love must 
be making you envious. Are you trying to dissuade 

H.S. shivaprakash/49 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi ; 

Seivi ; 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 


me from wearing any jewelry so that my love doesn't 
find me beautiful? 

How can he be in love if he loves the mistress for 
her jewels? 

Get off, then. I'll meet him unadorned. 

Please don't dear. Then he might have me disappear 
from here. I know the master doesn't love the mis- 
tress because of her jewels, but loves the jewels 
because of the mistress. Here, wear this necklace 
he got for you. 

Give it to me. No, I won't wear it. But I want to 
wear it. Whenever I see it my mind is filled with 
twin feelings of love and fear. 

How can love and fear be related? Musicians, 
remove this fear from my mistress's mind. Play on 
your instruments a tune that will fill her with cour- 

The strange story of this necklace is our story ... 
the story of our love. I must experience it all over 
and over again. Seivi why don't you play a part in 
our story. Ours was the family of royal dancers. 
Our house was cluttered with any number of neck- 
laces. There were also many that Kovala had given 
me. Even then he would often say. 

(acting like Kovala) Madhavi! There isn't a single 
necklace here which matches your beauty. I must 
get one somehow on this voyage. 

Kovala (eft on another voyage. Trade was only an 
excuse. His intention was to get a necklace which 
was beautiful enough for my neck. Parting from 
him again was great agony. I didn't stand in the 
way of his deeply fell desire. Kamboja in the east, 
Persia and Greece in the west. The wide, blue seas 
between them. ..Emerald — green forests burning 
deserts... frozen mountains., .Pearl-white rivers. ..In 
short he searched the whole earth and was returning 
to me when.... the ship began to be tossed about 
in a tempest. 

50/INDIAN literature : 156 

Seivi; (Signals to the musicians to stop singing. Then the 

sound of the storm becomes audible in the back- 
ground.) Thunder bolt that seems to cleave the 
raging seas into two, pouring down rain the next 
moment!) Ceaselessly like a falling sea from above 
and the hapless ship reeling like a dry leaf afloat. 

Madhavi : The travellers had not expected death to come in 
this form. It was a merchant ship. They hadn't ima- 
gined their search for wealth would end this way. 
They were all bewildered and started praying. 

Seivi ; But how could they pray when those demonic pow- 

ers were shattering time itself and their hearts were 

Madhavi : My Kovala was also in that ship. 

Seivi ; The world before my eyes seemed to vanish. 

Madhavi : When he came back he said. 

Seivi : Madhavi, in that black moment your face rose 

before me like the dazzling sun. In that form you 
said to me. 

Madhavi : My love will not let you die, Kovala. Remember 
the goddess who saved your forefathers from this 
same plight . . . Remember your family diety and the 
goddess of thunder Manimegalai .. Appeal to her 
to return calm into the sea she herself has enraged. 

H.S. shivaprakash/51 

Seivi ; 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 

Seivi ; 

Madhavi, in that black moment 1 heard you say 
these words to me. 1 started praying as you had 
suggested "Oh Manimegalai! Take my life, my 
world if you want. But keep me alive until 1 have 
put his pearl necklace round Madhavi's neck and 
filled my eyes with her image. Madhavi, it was not 
within time that 1 offered that prayer. It was in eter- 
nity. The storm ceased in a short while, the sea 
sighed in relief. Rain became gentler with every 
drop. The ship stood still motionless like the earth. 
(Wearing the necklace) As he put this necklace on 
me, all these events passed before my eyes looking 
more real than they did in reality. The living and 
the lifeless watched in amazement the earth and 
sky, the five elements, gods and demons, life and 
death becoming characters in this great saga of our 
love. ... Once again the same form, the same roar 
of the sea! This house feels like a ship that has lost 
its moorings. 

Mistress, don't heed the tempest and the roaring 
sea. After all, this is nascent summer, isn't it? 

No, don't deceive me. (Takes the necklace out, 
and cries pressing it against her bosom) This is the 
symbol of our deep love .. And also of the terrible 
dangers that follow such love. How can I wear it? 
How can I stay without wearing it?' 

In that case, to bring mistress back to that imaginary 
summer, we'll need that song aboutfierce summer. 
Sing! Musicians, sing "Driving away the sweet 

Driving the sweet spring out 
Enters the blazing summer heat 
When your blossoms have withered 
Where is that charming smile? 

Where is the cuckoo that sang so sweet 
Among the mango shoots? 

When the ponds are dry to the bottom 
How can the lotus bloom? 

52/INDIAN literature : 156 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 
Madhavi : 

Seivi ; 

Madhavi ; 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

(Wearing the necklace again) Why do you sing 
about the blazing summer? The heat is still nascent. 

Yes, Mistress. The spell cast by spring hasn't worn 
out yet. 

Seivi, get me that thin light coloured veil so that 
this nascent heat feels better on the skin. You are 

um . You never know the difference between a 
thin' veil and a thick one. 

Only a wearer would know that. How can one who 
puts it on another know the difference? (Wraps a 
light, yellow veil round Madhavi) 

Don t lie to me. See, how well you understand my 
inmost desires. 

Musicians, play the instruments loudly! Do not let 
t e master hear these words. Let the Mistress remain 
un er the illusion that she alone knows her inmost 

Seivi, you know how crazy Kovala is about flowers. 
You haven't brought the flowers today, have your 
o into the bed room and see for yourself. 

Gre is a virtual flower-fair there. I know you will 
not go in there alone. 

Don't make me blush with this kind of talk. When 
ova a comes, I may feel too shy to raise my eyes 
o im What garland have you brought to adorn 
nis neck as soon as he walks in? 

How would I know when you yourself are not sure 
about it? 

What do you mean? 

Just what I said. If I bring a garland of jasmines you 

wi say. You fool! Why did you get these pale 
faced flowers?" 

Let us say I bring a garland of champak flowers the 
n^t day. Then you will say— "Crazy Woman! Why 
' bring these frowning flowers." If I bring the 
im\ P shaped jasmine, you want the round one. 

ring the round jasmine, you want the twilight 
jasmines. If | bring both, you ask for the ball-like 

H.S. shivaprakash/53 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 
Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

chrysanthemum. If i bring that, you ask, "Is it a ball 
or a flower?" 1 am at a loss to know what I should 
do, mistress. 

Do you mean to say you didn't bring any flowers 

1 thought I wouldn't. But I had to please, at least 
Manmatha, the god of love, so I brought some, 

Tell, me, what flowers have you brought? 

(Shakes her head to indicate she will nqt tell her 
Madhavi follows her pestering. At last Seivi takes 
her to the basket and shows her the flowers.) Look 
here mistress, garlands of various flowers waiting 
in this basket competing with each other to embrace 
your darling's neck. 

The end of their battle with each other is approach- 
ing. He will certainly come now. How crazy the 
mind is . . . I feel it would be better if he didn't come. 
The very moment he ‘comes, my bosom opens out 
like a flower and disperses its fragrance of love in 
the winds. But while waiting, it keeps everything 
inside and guards it from exploding. Like the earth 
hiding gold in her womb. 

You may have your wish then. I'll secure the door 
so that nobody comes in. Here, 1 go. 

You haven't decided to become my enemy, have 

How can I when I am neither your mother nor 
sister. Nor am i your lover who makes you wait in 
anxiety and pain. I am your maid. I wait for your 
orders, mistress. 

That is the right spirit. Now tell me, how far away 
do you think Kovala is from here? 

! feel, due to the pressure of work, he has forgotten 
to come here. 

That will be when time and sky stand still. Now, 
tell me, how far is he from here? 

He might have reached the end of this street. 

54/iNDIAN literature : 156 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 
Madhavi : 

That's a lie. I don't hear the horses at all. 

Where can he be then? The distance from this house 
to that house is about a league. He may have 
covered half a league by now. If he comes with the 
speed of an arrow or wind, he may be here in a 
minute or two. 

You have no experience. How easily you say he 
may be here in a minute or two. You haven't tasted 
the sweetness or bitterness of love. Each minute 
appears like an epoch, when I am waiting for him. 
Theh these sinful eyes of mine can't even see him. 
Why do you say that? 

Seivi : 

Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi ; 

Unfortunate one's like me who are inexperienced 
about love, may not live for two epochs. As it is I 
am pretty old. How much older would I be even 
if I were to survive till the end of that second epoch. 
Seivi! Seivi! 

All right dear, I have decided to stay alive till he 
comes. Proximity of your infinite love should give 
me at least that long a life. 

What can we do to turn the remaining epochs into 
minutes and minutes into epochs? How do we make 
good use of time? 

Only by making songs about your lover, dancing 

H.S. shivaprakash/55 

Madhavi : 
Selvi ; 

Madhavi : 

to them and acting them out, by crossing this wild 
sea of minutes and epochs. 

You are right. Oh! How soon we have reached the 
end of the play. 

(Getting anklets' from the musicians and tying them 
round Madhavi's feet) Don't worry even if one 
epoch is over, there is one more to go. i shall sit 
there like the goddess of time and watch your light- 
ning feet cross that epoch. Musicians, let your tune 
and rhythm follow her in this journey through that 

Why do you not move on. Time 
'Move! Move!' though we say? 

Why do you move with the speed of an arrow 
'Stay! stay!' when we say? 

Are you a moment or an epoch 
Neither the feet nor the anklets know 
The wheel or time keeps rolling on 
Seasons will come and go. 

Will he come or not, 
wonders the rising sun. 

He will, without fail 
says the setting moon. 

Stars twinkle and vanish 

No sounding steps are heard 

No sight or sound of him 

Life is hard to bear 

Go, my friend, go and peep 

Out of the window of this world 

How can 1 live through time, my dear 

When I don't have him with me here? 

This, will you go and explain dear 
And make Time, my enemy, understand? 
(Madhavi dances to the song. The dance and music 
continue even after the song. Before it comes to an 
end, Selvi signals to the musicians to stop them, 
goes upto Madhavi, holds her and stops her dance) 
Mistress, your darling has learnt of the yearning in 

Selvi ; 


Madhavi ; 
Seivi : 
Madhavi : 
Seivi : 

Madhavi : 

Seivi : 

your blood. That is why he is approaching the door 

Why didn't 1 hear any horses then? 

Your ears are deafened by love. Listen carefully. 
Where? Where? 

In your heart-beat. Blind your eyes. Deafen your 
ears. Withdraw your senses from the outside world. 
Listen. Listen only to your heart beat. (To the Musi- 
cians) I have heard that your tunes can perform 
miracles. They bring rain to the barren earth; light 
up lamps which have been put off. Don't you have 
a tune which can make visible an invisible lover? If 
you have one, sing it now. 

No, compared to the heart beat, all other tunes and 
rhythms seem soiled by time ... There, there he 
comes. He is getting out of the chariot. Mischievous 
sea breeze! Don't spoil his lovely curls .. Go, Seivi. 
Open the door. No, don't! He'll get angry if you 
open the door. Why don't 1 do it myself? I'll go to 
the door, now. No, he must have a surprise. Go 
Seivi. Tell him 1 am not here at all ... See how his 
face withers then. And then, suddenly, 1 shall 
appear before him. No ... No ... Let us not waste 
so much time. What shall I do now? I'll go to the 
door, myself. Valli, look again, is everything ... my 
hair, the design on my forehead .. pleasing to him? 
Wrap this fallen veil around me. (To the musicians) 
Start singing. No, not yet ... Seivi, stay right, here. 
Wait! Wait! till 1 open the door. As soon as he sees 
my face and I his, signal to them to start their music. 
No, we won't have it that way. Now! Start your 
music right now. (Sudden screams of an infant) Oh, 
cruel truth! (Madhavi shuts her eyes and collapses 
to the ground in despair. Musicians become stil . 
Sound of the sea and storm are heard for a few 
seconds. Seivi stands like a stone. As she starts mov- 
ing towards Madhavi the child screams again). 
Take courage. Mistress. Truth is mocking our play 

H.S. shivaprakash/57 

Valli : 

Selvi : 

Valli ; 

Selvi ; 

Valli ; 

Selvi : 

Madhavi ; 

Selvi ; 

Madhavi : 

in the form of your child. We will pretend that the 
play is the truth. (To the musicians) Didn't you hear 
the order? Sing! 

(Valli enters carrying the child). 

It might even be possible to silence the sea. But its 
impossible to silence this child named after the 
sea-goddess, this child of yours and Kovala. 
Irresponsible girl! If you had done what I asked you 
to, the child would have been comfortably asleep 
(snatching the crying child from her) Why didn't 
you do what 1 told you to? 

What can I do, sister? There is no room in my mind 
now for any one other than that gallant who brought 
home that house-large fish. 

Don't you remember your duties? 

When the mother herself has forgotten the child, 
how can a maid remember it? 

What did you say, you shameless girl? 

(Valli exits making faces. Madhavi lakes the crying 
child from Selvi's hands.) 

Everyday, we have been play-acting and taking 
revenge against time. But today time has had his 
revenge on us. He spoilt our play just when it was 
moving to its climax. Sleep, Kovala's off-spring. We 
are both crying. I will be sucking the breast of sleep 
and you go to sleep sucking- my breast. Pray, Selvi 
that our play tomorrow go on without obstacles. 
But tell me, why did my Kovala go to that wretched 
Madurai? When is he coming back? Tell me. Why 
did he desert me? 

What can i do. Mistress? You did not listen to me. 
If you had married him as he had wished, you too, 
like Kannagi, could have followed him, like another 
shadow, wherever he went. 

No Selvi, Isn't this freedom to pine and yearn for 
•him much sweeter than possessing him through a 
set of rules called marriage? 
it was this kind of talk that cost you the opportunity 

Selvi : 

58/INDIAN literature : 156 

Madhavi ; 
Seivi : 

Madhavi ; 

Mustcians ; 

Seivi : 

of living with him forever. Your mothfer said before 
she died, "Madhavi, many birds come to sit on our 
branches arid taste our fruits. Why this stubborn 
decision to retain this one bird which came one 
spring? Look, the bird is for overflying away. Spring 
is passing." 

But in that spring this tree blossomed for that bird 

How pained your dying mother was, when she 
heard your answer. If only you had listened to her 
any number of merchants and princes would have 
poured their wealth on you. 

For his sake, I can suffer a hundred times the pain 
my mother suffered. There is no wealth more pre- 
cious than him. But, where is he? Come Manime- 
galai. Come, thunder goddess who gave me back 
my darling's life that day. He will come to see his 
daughter's face. Musicians, sing my daughter a lul- 
laby sing ... sing ;.. 

(Madhavi lies down with the child). 

Like a cloud sleeping in the lap of the sky 
Sleep, my daughter, sleep! 

Like the thunder sleeping in the lap of the cloud 
Sleep, my daughter, sleep! 

Like the fire sleeping in the womb of the sea 
Sleep, my daughter, sleep! 

Like desire sleeping in the depths of the heart 
Sleep, my daughter sleep! 

(Softly) Mistress ... Mistress ... Poor things! They 
have both fallen asleep. (To the, musicians) Look, 
from tomorrow there will be none of this play-act- 
ing. How cruel is the pain of pretending that illusion 
is truth. Truth is cruel. Agreed. But more cruel this 
illusion which makes truth hit you harder. I know, 
her lover is never going to come back. In Madurai 
he was trapped by a treacherous merchant and 
killed, it seems. Kaushika, whom she had sent to 
look for Kovala, brought me this news. He didn t 

H.S. shivaprakash/59 

have the courage to tell her. •Neither had 1. I have 
hidden it from her all these days. But how long can 
I hide it? Go, musicians, you need sleep too. Your 
instruments too need sleep. Even the maid, who 
suffers for her mistress, needs sleep. (Musicians 
begin to leave) I will steel myself all right. I will 
become fearless like the sea and the storm. Because 
when tomorrow this pale sun, wearing this white 
cloud like a shroud, opens this pale world, 1 must 
tell her the truth. 1 am putting out the lamps now. 
I'll put out this last one too ... Madhavi, I hope you 
may see your loved one's face in your dream at 

(Musicians would have left by now. The faint hum 
of the lullaby is heard even after the lights are put 

Translated from Kannada 

by Laxmi Chandrashekar 

Sfiort Stories 


- ■ 

[Copinath Mohanty's 79th birth anniversary fell on the 
20th of April 1 993. His novels like Mali matala, Amritara 
Santana, Paraja, Dadi Buddha, Siba bhai, Tantrikara, 
Hanjana, Danapani, Laya bilaya and Rahurachhaya as 
well as his short stories with their insightful delineation 
of tribal and rural life, have no doubt been a major land- 
mark in the history of Indian fiction. IL has pleasure in 
publishing a newly translated short story by the great 
Oriya experimentalist as a token tribute. Ed.) 




T ADPA was his name. Like all names a symbol which was 
also a justification. Otherwise it meant nothing. But in the 
rules of his language may be it was not related to a person in 
the minds of those who assigned names. After all he was a Kondh 
and his language was not Oriya. In his society parents can't freely 
choose any name. All the villagers would gather. The priest 
would go on reciting an almost endless list of names, the ritual 
worship would go on with offerings of fowl, unbroken rice, colou- 
red powders and raisin. The kalisi, the woman possessed would 
be throvving one rice grain after another into a pot of water 
reciting mantras all the while. The name, the mention of which 
would make a grain stand erect, would be picked up by the 
kalisi. That is how Tadpa got his name. To understand it one had 
to go back into the past when an encyclopedia of names was pre- 
pared. If one asked the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri hills as to 


who prepared it, you would get the answer, like answers to so 
many questions in research, that it was Mahapru, the one who 
had made night and day, the hills and valleys. And you may be 
admonished: Don't you know who made all this? Why then 
query like a child? 

So it was Mahapru who had created all this including the 
five thousand feet Niyamgiri hill in Koraput district and the 
Dongrias living there, their language and society. He too had 
created this beautiful name Tadpa. And the man Tadpa got it as 
per His will. 

An endless memory of axe falling with thud on tall trees and 
Tadpa remembered how miles of hill-slopes were shaved clean 
and then planted with oranges, pine apple, jack fruit. Elsewhere 
the run-off of the top soil exposed only dark stones where not 
even a blade of grass grew, only moss covered it and dried up. 
Somewhere else there was even now awesome forests with stout 
creepers and bamboos. At intervals of six to ten miles a small 
village of five to fifteen houses and then, once again, the jungle. 

The people from outside were coming down such a fearsome 
slope on the hill when they met Tadpa. it was ninethirty at night, 
a day towards the end of Aswina. As it was Niyamgiri was cool 
even in summer. And now the warmth of walking could barely 
counter the cold outside. They were seven persons and they 
really had no time to feel the cold as they walked on a footpath 
which looked like a small tunnel descending in curves across 
stones. They had to walk with careful steps. Along the road, hid- 
den away by tall and dense trees there was a rushing' hill-stream 
deep down below. One could hear the sound of its falls. A slight 
carelessness and one could stumble and land on its waters. One 
small torch light showed the way After a week in the hills the 
batteries were weak. There was always a fear of a tiger wither 
•suddenly springing from the dense forest or stand majestically in 
front of the road. So though they sometimes talked to one another, 
often they walked in silence. Sometimes too, through a chink in 
the wall of trees, they could sight the gurgling stream in moonlight, 
with million moons floating down its waters. On the other side 
the cultivated hill face had maize, bajra and mandia all melted 
into the haze of moonlight. And in front there hung a picture 

62/INDIAN literature : 156 

extending almost to the end of the horizon: several forms and 
shapes, hills, valleys, trees, hillocks, light, darkness, solid shapes 
and shadows — a silent massive picture. They would stop a while, 
look at that landscape and in a moment merge into it. Silent, 
lonely, full, timeless, unmoving, there, yet not there, almost lost. 
Once again along the narrow path they walked down, all the 
while a hidden fear inside as to when the journey might suddenly 
end. Wild animals, accidental fall, unknown dangers. These lurk- 
ing fears sometimes made one breathless. 

They came to see Dongria Kondh villages on Niyamgiri for 
a serious purpose. The Development Officer Parashuram was in 
front, thin, tall, and experienced. He had roamed many hills 
while planning the welfare of these hill-people and had come 
from Bhubaneswar. Behind him was anthropologist Bharat; he 

had studied the social system of many tribes, published some 
books and was eager to know and learn more. He was around 
forty, small looking, well built and full of enthusiasm. Behind 
him was the local official Hari Pani; his work was at the foot hill 
but it was going to be extended to the hill-slope and so he was 
there. His thirty years body was a stubborn black granite. Behind- 
him Madhusudan, the forest guard nearing fiftyeight, dwarfish, 
weakling. He had been long in the Niyamgiri hills and so was 
considered a good guide. And finally the three chaprasis, Makara, 
Najiru and Ramaya, seven in all. 

Setting out from Bisamcuttack railway station they climbed 
the Niyamgiri hills, and after halting in several villages now they 
intended to get down near Muniguda railway station. Fifteen 
miles straight across but though the hills it was fortyfive miles trek- 


king and seven days. There were no regular roads and one had 
to negotiate narrow and sharp bends, steep climbs going up from 
fifteen hundred to five thousand feet. Dizzy heights and descent, 
getting up and down hill slopes and spending nights on the 
narrow verandahs of the Dongria Kondh houses looking like 
caves and accepting their intimate hospitality. The drinking water 
was from the hill-streams which carried the washings from the 
upstream hamlets including that of buffalo meat; for almost every 
third day a buffalo was slaughtered in a Kondh village. There 
was no dispensary, no post office, no shops, no police station, 
no well or tank and not even a tile-roof house let alone a regular 
building. In short there was no trace of 'civilisation.' Only the 
hills, the forests, the fruit orchards and the crops and those primi- 
tive people knowh as Dongria Kondhs. With them also lived the 
Dombs who had come up from the valleys in course of time to 
earn a living. They offered liquor and occasional cash to the 
Kondhs and in exchange his fruit trees were mortgaged. One bot- 
tle of liquor could bring a fruit-bearing orange tree or four jack 
fruit trees for a year. Two rupees could fetch a huge banana plan- 
tation. And for twenty rupees two acres of pine-apple orchard. 
Likewise fields of turmeric, arhar and other crops. The Kondh 
would raise the crop, hoeing the fields, protecting the crops from 
the predatory animals by keeping awake in winter nights and the 
Domb would take the harvest to the market and garner all profit. 
The Kondhs and the Dombs lived according to the ways of their 
society. The Domb houses had wide verandahs, large rooms 
fairly neat and clean and sculptured wooden doors. They dressed 
well like people at the foot hill; sarees, blouses, coats, shirts. 
The house front was always swept clean in the morning and the 
children read and became literate. Some recited Puranas and 
some wove clothes. The main occupation was carrying goods to 
the market place, a job in which both sexes participated. There 
would be subsidiary ones too like illicit liquor distillation, purchas- 
ing cattle from the valleys which were sold to the Kondhs etc. 
The Dongria carried on in his ancient ways. The menfolk wore 
a loin cloth which was embroided by. the women in their small 
looms. The womeii wrapped a six-feet saree round the waist and 
when they went out covered the whole body with it. His clothes 

64/INDIAN literature : 156 

were always dirty, the hair on the head unkempt. The men wore 
rings on the nose and shells and small beads in the ears. The 
portion just above the forehead was shaved clean and the hair 
was made into a knot around a comb. They wore chains of colour- 
ful glass beads round the neck, a pick-axe on the shoulder, a 
six-inch long knife tucked at the waist and a sturdy stick of local 
wood embroidered in part. The women wore garlands of thin 
glass beads of many colours and other ornaments of brass and 
alloys. The men were very much addicted to liquor. The salapa 
tree sometimes provided it. But more often all the earnings went 
to the mahula wine available for purchase. He would get drunk 
and lose his senses. There were endless festivities in the village, 
rituals and worships, buffaloes given as sacrifice to gods and then 
consumed in a community feast. Working hard round the year, 
he produced so many diverse crops and fruits in such volume. 
And yet the Dongria remained as poor as ever dependent, for 
the four months of rains, on mango seeds and greens, bamboo 
shoots and powdered salapa tree-trunks, sometimes only with a 
dash of mandia or other millets. They had by now a detailed 
look at the Kondh life-style, the officers and the anthropologist, 
talking to the Dongrias, to the extent possible through the forest 
guard. Madhusudan, they had taken down notes in their dairies. 
For a week they had discussed and debated what needed to be 
done for the Dongria's good. Their sincerity was so intense that 
for that week they thought only of the Dongrias of the Niyamgin 
hills and obsessed with that thought they roamed the villages 
and observed details. That explained why they could leave Muta- 
guni village only at four in the afternoon though the labourers 
carrying their luggage had set out an hour earlier. Madhusudan 
had said that the way down via Muniguda hills was around six 
miles. But then they had landscapes to view, matters to discuss 
and Professor Bharat to take photographs on the way. The prob- 
lems were known; it was only a search for solution. 

Madhusudan gave his opinion: 'Sir, I have seen them for 
my entire- life; they are today as ever before. You cannot get 
better or more considerate people, they won't go anywhere near 
injustice or falsehood! They are totally wedded to their commit- 
ments but they won't change. They won't brush their teeth,, per- 


form ablution, go to school or give up drinking. Ail advice would 
fall on deaf ears.' 

Hari Pani had a different view: 'Everything changes and they 
too would change, Sir. But first you need regular roads to go 
round interiors of Niyamgiri. When forests open up civilisation 
comes in. Those who come from outside to serve among them — 
and you need plenty of them — need housing, drinking water and 
other facilities. All these must begin together with twenty or twen- 
tyfive lakhs investment: school, dispensary, piggery, orchards, 
some factories. And if fortunately some mineral deposits could 
be discovered then another Rourkela could be started and it 
would take very little for these people to change.' Professor Bharat 
looked at the problem differently: 'We have to consider what 
would be in their interest. The objective was not change for the 
sake of change. And they cannot prosper till exploitation lasted. 
The trouble is you cannot just throw out the exploiters for they 
too are the citizens of this country. So it would be necessary to 
go to the heart of exploitation which is made possible both by 
the capacity of the exploiter and the vulnerability of the exploited. 
Whatever we saw of the Dongria on this visit has been fashioned 
by centuries of belief and world-view. It is not the creation of 
yesterday. Who can prevent him from propitiating his ancestors 
and the gods with liquor'and buffalo meat? Living on hill slopes 
in deep winter, with inadequate clothings, his body needed the 
warmth of liquor. For him there was also no other entertainment. 
And so long this went on he would be throwing away ail his 
earnings and inviting exploitation. With education his taste could 
change but he had a fear that once educated his children won't 
grow crops. That explained his resistance to sending children to 
school and it was not wholly unfounded for there was no occu- 
pation other than primitive agriculture on these hills and if one 
gave it up one had to migrate. Briefly. there seemed to be no 
escape from a programme of education coupled with cultivation 
of restraint and new attitudes. That needed time, heavy invest- 
ment and trained workers. If instead of changing his attitude and 
world view we imposed a change on him it would only unsettle 
and destroy him despite our good intentions.' 

And then Parashuram added: 'Should we then continue to 

66/INDIAN literature : 156 

look on helpless till adequate funds were available, the Dongria 
children were educated, were new men and themselves built a 
new society? Should they, till then, remain like this: poor, illite- 
rate, exploited, vulnerable, almost like animals? What then was 
the use of our knowledge about him? Was it mere intellectual 
curiosity? Or we got going at least somewhere? Let it not be all 
villages but only a few. Let us build relationships, -explain, per- 
suade. Let them sell to government whatever they had to sell 
and buy from government channel all their needs. Let a few 
shops be opened for that purpose. Let government grant them 
their minimum requirement of loan and let workers centres be 
opened, schools established. Once they saw that this way their 
earnings increased they would come to accept it. And coming 
in touch with outsiders their taste and nature would also change. 

Along with these there has to be training for better cultivation, 
provision of better seedlings and soon there would be a bit of 
light in the darkness.' Professor Bharat replied: 'If that could solve 
the problem! They may earn more but the saving habit would 
take ages to be developed. The exploiter would only devise new 
strategies of exploitation: may be instead of the crops and pro- 
ducts of his orchards, liquid cash would go straight to liquor. 
There would be new ways of exploiting him. His goodness and 
simplicity would be lost in the process of coming in contact with 
outsiders. The trouble with such contacts was that the vulnerable 
irst picked up all the undesirable qualities of the exploiter. They 
would become opportunists, would no longer repay loans and 
purchase with cash from the market and on credit from govern- 
ment shops. They would fall repeatedly into the traps of new 


exploitation. His present simplicity and honesty were perhaps 
only due to ignorance and superstition and not born out of a 
conviction, or an ingrained idealism. Even idealists also some- 
tirnes faltered, stumbled, had doubts but one could not notice 
any such thing here. It was all a picture of liquor, meat and 
dedication to cheap pleasures. And if he still spoke the truth it 
was perhaps because he could not manage a falsehood all along 
the line. And inside him there were many unknown fears. Once 
he found the way he too would become a cheat, ‘a liar, an exploi- 
ter. I feel pained by his misfortune but it is not merely of his 
economic condition. It is also of his mind. We need a strategy 
that would preserve his innate goodness and prevent the sprout- 
ing of the evil aspects of change. But 1 still find no way how to 
go about it.' Parashuram said: 'That problem of the mind was 
not merely of the D.ongria but of all men, everywhere, in greater 
or smaller measure. If one could overcome that there would be 
no wars, no violence, selfishness, falsehoods. So many thinkers 
have spoken of ways to solve the impasse and that' too for thou- 
sands of years and yet things have not changed. Is that any reason 
why we should not begin somewhere and leave these people to 
remain helpless and poor as ever, all their earnings being eaten 
away by exploiters? We have to develop their economy and slow- 
ly there would be improvement in his mental set-up, his society. 
That is why I am thinking over in my mind; seeking a way. So 
let us put our minds together. We have to make a beginning. 
We can't allow this destitution to last forever as we continue to 
discuss theories. Or else there could be disastrous developments 
which would totally uproot them.' Madhusudan said 'Sir, they 
really live in great misery.' Hari Pani added, 'There was no doubt 
about that. But who can help till roads and other facilities are 
created. Would they ever come to us climbing across the hills 
or could we come to them every now and then? Whoever came 
to work here would find the going tough in the midst of disease, 
danger and inconveniences. After all everyone was a human 
being. So what was needed was minimum facilities for work. 
Without that everybody would pay only lip service but for real 
work no one would come forward. Surely something needed to 
be done for it was a blot on everybody that even today some 

68/INDIAN literature ; 156 

people live in such misery.' 

They had debated the issues openly, had expressed them- 
selves as they spoke and then became silent. They were thinking 
about it and as they did that they forgot the fear and the strain 
on the body. It was a forgetting of personal misery in thinking 
about other's grief. Once again that receded to the background 
and the thought of dangers on the way took precedence. 

Suddenly in the dense forest they could spot a shadow. It 
was moving and then became steady. Everyone came to a halt. 
Parashuram flashed the torch. They. could see'a person, bare- 
bodied but for a loincloth, an axe on the shoulder. A Dongria 
Kondh, about twenty five years old. 

'Who are you,' Parashuram queried. He said 'I am Tadpa. 
Were you coming, Babu, or returning.' 

The group came near him. He entreated; 'Give me one bidi.' 
Madhusudan took out one. Parashuram gave a matchbox. He 
lighted the bidi, held the matchbox tight and said 'I am taking 
this. Hari Pani said, 'We would have difficulty without it.' 'I 
won t hear that. If a child cannot take a thing from parents from 
whom then would he take?' he replied. 

Parashuram said 'Let him take it. Surely Bharat Babu would 
have another? Bharat Babu nodded. Tadpa looked happy and 
said While coming down there near the water fall I sat down 
and smoked. Then I could know you all are coming. I waited 
but you people were late. I felt that you are not able to walk 
and in a forest you might lose the way. Anyway we never saw 
people like you at this late hour of night. I guessed that you were 
afraid and so walked slowly. I thought that if I am with you, you 
would have no fear and also not lose track. So now corne on. 
Hari Pani asked, 'Are there tigers in this forest?' tadpa laughed 
and said you could as well ask if there is fish in water or stars 
in the sky. Of course tigers are there. Where else could he go?' 

'Has it eaten up someone?' 

Eaten? Tadpa said. 'When you are hungry don't you eat? 

It has eaten many and it lives near that waterfall.' 'But you are 
going alone, are you not afraid?' 

Tadpa said 'When you go on the road are you afraid? Don t 
people die, run over by car. I know that. That is your road, this 


is ours. I am not afraid.' Parashuram said. But why go out at 
night? Can't you do without it?' 'How can one?' Tadpa looked 
surprised that someone could even think that way! He laughed 
and said, I climb the hill at night to guard my crop. Whenever 
there are other needs I walk into the forest. And today it is such 
a great need.' 

'But what was it?' 

'The work?' he asked and seemed to think. And then added; 
'As such nothing; for at night you can't hoe the soil, nor fell a 
tree or break stones. Just like that.' 'But you said there was some 
need,' Madhusudan queried, 

Tadpa laughed loudly and then said, 'Yes, it is fora dhangdi 
bent, 1 am on way to Penubali village.' Madhusudan also smiled. 
Everyone else looked at each other's face. Then Madhusudan 
explained that he was going to get a bride. They have the custom 
of dbangdas of one village going to a neighbouring village to 
dance with the dhangdis of that village. They were looked after 
well, spent the night singing and dancing and returned in the 
morning. In the midst of songs and dances they chose life's 
partner and marriages are solemnised thereafter. 

'You are laughing so much Babu?' Tadpa asked Parashuram. 
'No doubt today you are old but surely someday you were a 

'Yes 1 was a dhangda but have never done dhangda-bent, 
that custom is not there in our society.' 

Moonlight fell on them from the left side and from top. 
Everywhere there were shadows of different shapes. The sound 
of running water was like the prelude played out in a musical 

Tadpa looked curiously at Parashuram and said, 'In an area 
where there is no dhangdi-bent the people there must be animals 
or human beings.' Anthropologist Bharat asked, 'Why?' Tadpa 
replied, 'only when two persons come to know each other through 
songs and dances, laughter and play only then they can build 
a proper relationship. Otherwise, how can they make it? No 
acquaintance, no love and yet set up a house like those people 
at the foot of the hill?' ’He raised up his nose, the rings on the 
nose shone in moonlight, as he added 'We are not like that. We 


are Dongria.' Madhusudan said, 'Dongria is the King of Niyam- 

Tadpa said, 'So you know it all.' 

Bharat enquired, 'Is it true that the dhangdi does not sit in 
your lap? Instead you sit in the dhangdi's.' 

Tadpa was serious. He nodded his head and said, 'correct, 
quite correct we sit in the lap of the dhangdi.' 

Then he looked inspired and asked for another bidi. Bharat 
put a cigarette in his mouth and lighted it. In one breath he 
finished off nearly half of it and then patted him on the shoulder 
and the back and repeated his answer adding, 'Have you not 
done so?' 

Bharat cautioned everyone not to laugh and yet there, was 

indications of suppressed laughter. Hari Pani said, 'we know the 
son sits in the lap of the mother.' 

Tadpa threw away the cigarette and said, 'Nothing stronger? 
Give me a bidi if you have. Yes, the son sits in the lap of the 
mother. But is not the dhangdi a mother? Say, are you and I, 
mother?. We are sons. Dhangdi is the mother. When a child we 
sit in mother s lap. When we grow up we sit in the lap of the 
dhangdi who chooses us.' Hari Pani said, 'Then, in whose lap 
do you sit when old?' 

Tadpa said, 'When too old and I drop dead I will sleep in 
the lap of another mother. Don't you know who she is?' 

Hari pani asked, 'Who?' 

Tadpa said, 'Who? This Dhartani, Basumati; she is mother 
o ml of us, who else? And she is inside the mother who gives 
irth and also the dhangdi.' Bharat told Parashuram, 'Oh, it is 


SO complex!' Parashuram replied, 'Strange indeed. 

They started walking. 

Parashuram asked Tadpa, 'So you are going for song and 
dance with the dhangdis. You have already done ten miles and 
you are to do another six miles or so! Your need must be very 
urgent.' Tadpa laughed and said, '1 gave my promise to go last 
Wednesday in the hat, how can 1 break it?' 

There was now a sharp descent and completely dark forest. 
Tadpa walked ahead and said, 'there is no cause for fear, just 
follow rhe.' 

Parashuram said, 'Wait on, let me go ahead and flash the 

Tadpa said, 'I don't need it. I am young and I can see the 

He refused to be persuaded and continued walking ahead. 
He added. 'These forests and hills are our home and you are 
our guest. So should I lead you or you should lead me? What 
would our village elders say if they heard of it? What would Bisi 
Majhi the head-man say? They would say Tadpa you were there 
and you spoiled our good name.' 

Bharat said, 'There could be wild animals. 

'They are like our brothers. No fear from them. 

They went further down. Now they were on the Sakata river, 
fairly wide, which skirted the hills. Tadpa entered the river and 
asked the others Don't go in there; for there the water is deep. 
Please follow me. It was only knee-deep water. The forest now 
thinned down. Tadpa said, 'Now I would take leave. You have 
nothing to fear now for a little further you will be out in the open. 
Your road is to the left, mine to the right. On the hill another 
four miles and i would be at Penubali. Now your road is straight. 
Let me go. 

They halted. Parashuram gratefully thanked him. Bharatsaid, 
'you have done us such a good turn.' He came to Parashu- 
ram and said, 'Give me twentyfive paise, I will eat something.' 
Parashuram and Bharat laughed. He entreated; 'Come on, if i 
don't take from my parents for something to eat, from who shall 
1 take it. Parashuram took out two ten paise coins from his 
pocket. Bharat brought out another, it was given to him. He 

72/INDIAN literature : 156 

thanked each one profusely and left with rapid stride. His song 
was heard at a distance. They kept walking. Tadpa had vanished 
into the dark in no time. A little ahead something sparkled on 
the ground. Bharat bent down to see. There was one ten paise 
coin. Next to it was another. They halted a while and knew it 
had fallen off from his hand. 

'If he had no care for money, why did he entreat us so much 
for it?' Madhusudan supplied the answer, 'That was his way of 
honouring you as his parents. Dongria is like that: with so much 
intelligence, almost like a child. It is enough for him to get what- 

ever he needed at a given time. Money is like pebbles in his 
eyes.' They looked back a little. Wrapped in hazy moonlight 
Niyamgiri hill seemed to be asleep. As if it Was a dream and not 
a reality. The road lay ahead of them. Parashuram suggested that 
they discussed a little more the strategy for Dongria Kond 
development. The discussion continued. 

Translated from Oriya 
by Sitakant Mahapatra 



F atigued, wearied, the hermit reached the village. An alien 
there. Wholly certain of where he was going. He passed 
through the gate, in all bewilderment. There were women, a lot 
of them drawing water at the nearby well. At the sight of their 
persons of varying ages, his dead-beat face grew darkened. 
Agonized by an insufferable malady as though he looked from 
within, his face shot the agony out. Surviving the fleeting moments 
of the present, the women appeared to him each figuring a picture 
of her own future self. Soon his attention was distracted towards 
the young girl who was pulling water out of the well. She wore 
new clothes, her hue beaming like turmeric. She looked married 
quite recently, for her girlish innocence had not given way to 
the youthful charms yet. All of a sudden, her face looked disfi- 
gured, and her body swollen as though it had lain soaking in the 
water for long. Just then the hermit turned his face aside and said 
to the man alongside, “That girl shall be drowned.” 

The hermit walked on as usual. No sooner did he leave the 
place than was heard a huge uproar from the well behind. He 
did not need to even look back, for he had foreseen all that took 
place there. 

Further, not very far, there was a black-smith, a steely per- 
son, busy with his work in the cottage, in his front was the blaze 
that released an intermittant shower of sparks. In the light of the 
reddish flames, the blacksmith looked like the figure of Lord 

74/INDIAN literature : 156 

Krishna emerging out of the churning red sea. Beside him was 
a young child seated on a wooden log. He gazed at the continu- 
ally volatile thousand tongues and specks of sparks. 

The hermit repented having cast his eyes at that for a 
moment. In zest, he blurted out to a man there “Look! that child 
is burning to death soon." He left the place and walked on. The 
man just stared at the hermit like one would at an insane person 
perhaps in compassion. The child could be seen sitting there for 
days and watching the playful flames. The blacksmith rose to his 
feet and wiped the sweat off his body. He let the snake-lines of 
his over-strained nerves relax and went in for a little water. 

The hermit walked fast as though he was being forcibly 
pulled by a mighty, invisible chain. Reaching the street's end, 
where there was a tree, like the one called Chavri, he expected 
a helpless cry. The moment he stepped in the cool shade of the 
tree, a loud scream rent the air behind. 

He passed a desolate place with no habitation around. He 
had left the village behind and was freed from tension. He 
expected to see a temple in the midst of the woods at the foot 
of the facing hill. He went on to see the temple. The supporting 
pillars of the temple-porch were missing. The image stood bro- 
ken, the entire precincts being strewn with the ruins of the old 
structure. He sat on a deer-skin in one corner of the temple in 
a silent wait. 

He experienced a feeling of relief, the kind of which comes, 
slowly to the mind while nearing the last leg of the journey. 
Except for the inert, wearisome rustling of the wayside tree-leaves 
there was perfect calm around as though the very sound was 
petrified there. No one dared tread there before. But his foot- 
prints could be tracked in the soft, thick dust-layers stretching 
right from the door to the farthest corner. Time passed, hour 
by hour, but the hermit stayed still, waiting there. The eventful 
moment arrives as predestined; he was well aware that it never 
comes before or after irrespective of man's eagerness or anxiety. 

Then, after a long spell of time, a sound was heard from 
afar of the foot-steps trampling the dry, withered leaves. A hardy, , 
robust youth was standing at the threshold, brandishing a dagger. 
He stopped and peeped into the darkness inside. 

G.A. kulkarni/75 

"Come in, Bharat, I'm sitting here in this corner, i'm waiting 
for you alone," said the hermit. 

"My name is- Bharat, indeed. But how do you know it?" he 
said, sharply. 

The hermit gave a smile. He had foreseen that Bharat would 
stand before him and ask him the very question. He also knew 
that he would say nothing in reply. Nevertheless, the question 
enkindled his memory. As the future transgresses the present, 
the past alsomanifests itself to him, making him wide awake now. 

He himself had named him Bharat: he was his son. The 
mother had died leaving behind her both the newly-born babe 
and the joy of his birth. At the age of eight, the boy abandoned 

his home. The hou.sehold life was in shambles. Since then the 
hermit's foot-steps had traversed all the way long in quest for his 
lost son. A hardy, robust youth figured to him in a scene of the 
temple ruins in background. The fascination for all this sapped 
his blood. He might have passed that way, on the village outskirts, 
several times before, but not even once had he come across the 
temple nor had he intended to enter the village. The eventful 
moment must, therefore, come; it cannot be forced. Everything 
should happen at its time, not even a fraction of a moment earlier 
or later. Its design is like that of a stone-built structure. The youth 
would figure in with a dagger in his hand. But the fascination of 
it, however irresistible or unbearable it was had brought the her- 
mit there. Both — one who brandishes the weapon and one who 

76/INDIAN literature : 156 

succumbs to it — are utterly helpless when enmeshed in this vast, 
unbounded and outstretching net. Resigned to a state of helpless- 
ness, both suffer neither sin nor guilt. 

The hermit looked calm and still. Bharat said, "Tm a man 
of repute here. People are scared of my indignation but pride 
themselves in my friendship. One mentions my name with awe 
and reverence. But do you know why I've come here?" 

For years, the hermit had been aware of all this. He had 
known everything long before — ever since he had crossed the 
threshold of his house and begun to live a vagrant life.. No,.even 
before, when he had named the child Bharat, he had perceived 
it all. He had visualized it with such non-involvement as is 
expected of one witnessing a play. 

At the time Bharat was born, why prior to that, when he 
himself was born or even long long before that of man's innum- 
erable future lines, each had come into its own, inevitably like 
bubbles surfacing in water. Now was the inescapable moment 
fixed for the present. It was impinging upon the future by. pacing 
ahead of the present. "It's precarious to have a man like you 
moving around", said Bharat, "I've come here to slay you. Death 
speaks through your tongue. Your words foreshadow the inauspi- 

The hermit said, calmly, "What you are feeling like is also 
a part of the inevitable. Nevertheless, you are mistaken. It is 
predestined whether to force words into action or not. Nothing's 
within the reach of man. It's hot what I speak that happens; it's 
rather what happens that I just foresee and speak. I'm under a 
curse. And my words too, are a part of the inevitable." 

A beam of sun-light entered through the cloven wall of the 
temple. The dust inside, its striped coat of finger-breadth, looked 
golden, its reflection dispelling, for a short \vhile, the darkness 
inside. "I'm more accursed than others", the Hermit said, "be- 
cause, I've to forego even the illusory joy of hopes and dreams. 
Contrarily, I'm happier than others, because I needn't be angry 
at or sorry for anything. You're going .to kill me, but neither do 
1 fear death nor do 1 hate you. Look! The beam of light there! 
Now it's golden, but, in a short while, it'll turn reddish. That 
moment shall be the last sanguine moment of my life. The moment 

G.A. kulkarni/77 

it turns red, I'li be finished. Neither shall I entreat upon you to 
hasten your job nor shall I pray you to spare my life a little longer. 
Even if you want it to happen, it won't happen at your instance 
and also before its predestined moment. Even if i will it. I'll not 
be able to postpone it.” 

The hermit paused. Soon, then, Bharat's face figured to him 
to have turned darkish blue and looked rather sapless and hor- 
rible. And, all around his neck, there appeared the mark of the 
noose that resembled the coils of a black snake. Once the hermit 
had tied the threaded beads around the child's neck from behind 
to protect him from the influence of malignant eye. He feared a 
.dark scar to shoot up at that spot and that, too, only because of 
him. Despite his awareness of the unassailable, impregnable pri- 
son of the inevitable, tears welled up in his eyes. He had just to 
shut these eyes rather imperceptibly. 

Bharat failed to decipher the hermit's words. He looked 
terribly hateful. He lifted the. dagger up and thrust it deep into 
his breast, while he was sitting, with his eyes shut in calm resig- 
nation. The blood spurted, drenched the dust already reddened' 
by the light, and ran its course through the earth. 

Translated from Marathi 
by L,S. Deshpande 



I T was getting dark by the time I reached that village. 1 stopped 
the car at what was obviously the centre of the village and 

"Padmanabham ... he retired after working in the high 
school. Which is the way to his house?" 

"Padmanabham?" before the men could think it over and 
answer a boy came forward. "I'll show you the way." 

I got him into the car. 

Mud roads. Silent, bleak houses and streets. Dust clouds 
followed the car. The people were staring at the car with awe. 

After many turns and twists through the narrow lanes and 
by-lanes I stopped the car opposite a thatched house. 

"Sir, please wait. I'll go and see if Masterji is there!" the boy 
got down and went in. 

After observing the village and the people there, a serious 
question arose in my mind. "How do these people live? And 
what for?" 

I decided that if I could meet Padmanabham and return to 
the town by night 1 could stay in a hotel. 

"He is there and asks you to come in," the boy barged in. 

I closed all the shutters and locked the car. I felt funny as 
the boy gazed at the car, my suit and goggles in turns. I offered 
him a one-rupee note for his help. 

"No, Sir," before ! could respond the boy darted into dust 
and darkness, pulling up with one hand his slipping shorts. 


His indifference to money surprised me. i could not under- 
stand him. Doesn't he really need money? Or is there happiness 
in poverty? I don't know. 

Meanwhile the old man himself walked towards me. 

Thick glasses, bald head that shines like a polished vessel. 
And old dhoti around his loin, but nothing on the chest. 

Is this Ramesh's father? I wondered. "May 1 know who you 
are?" he asked me trying to see through his feeble eyes. 

I told him my name. 

"I came from the States fifteen days back. Your son wanted 
me to come and see you without fail." 

"Come in." Mr. Padmanabham led the way, 

I bent my head cautiously before stepping in to avoid bump- 
ing against the door-way. 

He showed me an old chair and asked me to sit. 1 sat. 

Then i saw the photos of a medley of Gods set in a corner. 
Obviously the place of worship. 

1 excused myself and said, "I will leave the shoes outside." 

He didn't say anything. I removed my shoes and socks and 
left them on the verandah outside. A funny feeling when my soft 
feet touched the hard earthen floor, 

I went in again. 

"Babul want to drink some water?" 

An old lady stood with a copper tumbler and brass pitcher 
in her hands. She was Subbayamma, Mrs. Padmanabham. 

"He is a friend of our son," Mr. Padmanabham introduced 


"Namaste," said the old lady with a serene expression on 
her ’face. 

I took the tumbler into my hand but hesitated for a moment. 
I was afraid that the water might be contaminated and make me 
sick. I had brought a bottle of drinking water with me. But these 
people might get hurt if f take it out. I pulled myself up and. took 
a gulp. 

"Krishna water. Good for health," the old man assured me. 

The water trickled down my gullet and reached the stomach. 
It was cool and sweet. A thrill went through my whole body. 

Subbayamma sat on a wooden plank. Mr. Padmanabham 

80/)NDIAN literature : 156 

sat cross-legged on the cot. 

"We are waiting for Ramesh and children. They are sup- 
posed to be here for Ugadi," said Subbayamma. 

"They are not coming. They have planned to visit Canada 
in the vacation." 

She did not say anything. But the disappointment was visible 
on her face. 

"They have so many preoccupations. It is not Rajahmundry 
or Ravulapalem so that they can visit us whenever they like/' he 

None of us spoke for a while. 

The electric bulb burnt above us like a reddened eye. The 
mosquitoes started their concert. I must get out of here quickly. 

I squirmed in the chair. She looked at me and must have 
noted my unease. 

"I'll get you coffee," she got up and went in. 

I wanted to say no but could not. My throat was parched. 

"If you come to the States ..." 

"If I come?" Mr. Padmanabham said. 

. "You can see all the places," I added. 

"What should I do after seeing?" 

I didn't have a reply for that. 

"The banks of the Krishna, the Amareswara temple — these 
won't come there. For the last fifty years I have been used, to a 
dip in the Krishna, dawn and dusk prayers to sun God and the 
visit to Amareswara temple — cannot live without these." 

There is no emotion in his face. Just disinterestedness, or is 
it serenity? 

"Take the coffee," she stood there. 

I accepted. The copper tumbler burnt my fingers. I tried to 
endure in silence. 

"Is the sugar enough?" 

I nodded in agreement. 

"You didn't give coffee to Masterji," I mumbled. 

The old lady smiled "He drinks coffee only once In the 
morning. That too for my sake, It is I who almost lives on coffee." 

The taste was funny, slightly, sweet, pungent and also a bit 
bitter. Is this the true taste of coffee? I do not know. I am used 


to the taste of instant coffee. That too, what is served in packets. 
This must be the real flavour and taste of coffee. 

"Sir, the street urchins have flocked around the car and are 
trying to make mischief,” The boy who showed the way came 
in and told me. I was about to get up. 

"You stay there and ask them to stand at a distance," he 
told the boy. "You need not worry. They won't do anything. 
They feel happy just by being able to look at it." 

"May 1 take leave of you." 

' "SI/// ■ • 

"So soon! Please stay for the night." 

1 am in a dilemma. Should 1 stay or leave? If I make my visit 
so short what will Ramesh think of me? 

"My son! It is as if my Ramu is with me when I see you. 
Who knows when he comes. Stay the night and have food with 
us. You can leave tomorrow." 

There was no importunity in the old lady's voice. It was 
almost an order of a mother to her son. 

How do 1 spend the whole night? I cannot refuse her. Does 

82 /indian literature ; ise 

courtesy demand that 1 stay and go through a hellish night? 1 
l)owed to courtesy finally. 

'^Cook the meals'. He will stay," Mr. Padmanabham told his 


I had to stay the night. 

I removed the suit and changed into the dhoti given by him. 
Sitting in the old chair, I pulled my knees close. If I stretched my 
feet, the mosquitoes would sting me fiercely. When his eyes were 
not on me, I watched the mosquitoes and tried to dodge their 
attacks with all my wits and energy. 

Subbayamm i lit an oil lamp at the Tulasi in the backyard 
and prayed before serving us the meals. 

Eating on the leaves was a new experience for me. 1 was 
afraid that the slivers, used to stitch the leaves might get stuck in 
my throat. Moreover a cat was sitting in front of us mewing. It 
too seemed to be a part of the family. 

Gourd curry, tamarind chutney and rasam. 

"I didn't make many items because we are not many in the 
house. It is late. Anyway you too are like my son. My cooking 
may not be to your liking." She sat beside me serving one item 
after the other like a mother. "I'll give you some ghee. What 
about some lemon pickle?" 

i had lost the habit of eating pungent and sour things, 
burning sensation in the mouth. Tears stung my eyes. 1 drank a 
lot of water but felt like eating more. I must have eaten quite we 

Later I lay on the loosely strung cot in the yard. Mosquitoes 
were stinging, there was a cool breeze though. 1 could not sleep 
for long as I wasn't comfortable in the bed. 

The old lady enquired about the welfare of her son, gran 
sons and daugther-in-law. 

"My daughter-in-law seemed to have come to India some 
time back to attend a marriage. We thought she would come o 
us and waited. She didn't come but returned home from Banga 
lore itself. We could not travel such a long distance though we 
wanted to. His health wasn't sound either." 

"Do you have adequate medical facilities here?" 

"Of course we have. We don't have any serious hea ^ 
problems, but for those of old age. There is a cataract in one o 



tarakarama rao/83 

his eyes, it has to be removed. But he postpones it saying he 
can see with one eye anyway and doesn't have anything great 
to do." 

"What about your second son^" 

"The eider one is in the States. The younger is in Australia. 
He is like his brother. He too comes once in years, spends a few 
days and returns. He has married a girl there. She hasn't come 
here. Hehassentoniyaphotoofher. He always comes alone." 

They have two sons. Both are doing v^ell. Why should these 
people stay here? Can't they leave the village after living here all 
their lives? Or does self-respect come in the way? I asked her 
the same, though not so directly. 

She smiled. 

"Self-respect? To live with my sons? No! Not at all. We are 
like bottle-gourd creepers. It sprouts when it rains. Grows and 
gives gourds. In summer it withers. That's all." 

But roses don't grow on rain water and air. They need careful 
rearing and tending. Then only they give beautiful flowers. 

The moon was shining like a large silver plate in a desert. 
The village, the trees and the surroundings were all asleep. Only 
my eyes were wide open. 

1 could not sleep. Any rustling of a leaf, any movement of 
a creature evoked fear in me in the new surroundings. It could 
be a snake or a scorpion. If there was a rattle of the rats, the 
mewing of a cat or even the tinkling of the bell in the cows neck 
1 shivered. Even the barking of a dog caused anxiety. It could 
be a mad dog; could come and bite me. 

Fear engulfed my whole being. 

because ... 

When 1 lost my parents as a child, my maternal uncle took 
me to his house in town and educated me in a convent. My 
uncle gave me his daughter in marriage and kept us with him. 

"There is nothing here except hunger and heat, riots and 
accidents, deceit and defeat ... No. You both leave the country. 
Live happily in the States. I'll send you the money," saying thus, 
my uncle sent me off to America as soon as 1 graduated. 

That's why 1 abhor India as I do a tiger. When 1 look at the 
common people 1 get a creepy feeling as if a viper is crawling 
across my feet. 

84/INDIAN literature : 1S6 

With taw 

^ a / .rnmiug J 

DoUle-gourd creepers too? 
I can't say. 

' I am terrified. But are they 

'/f" ®r ''’P I sot up the 

....v-.i , ,cn aificcfj,. py (pB tfme I got 

sun vvas scorching my face. My eyes were burning. My skin too 

^ “P "'y 6™* 

your teeth, / will get you coffee." 

What do f brush with? 

with me. 

Because f didn't want to stay, I hadn't brought my night-gear 

The p(d (ady brought a neem-stick and wafer. ( gargled my 
mouth. When she went In I pretended I had finished brushing. 
Where is Masterji?" I asked her while sipping the coffee. 
"He has gone to school." 

"Is he still working?" 

"No! He retired ten years back. Even then he goes to school. 
He talks to the children and teachers, benches and boards, trees 
and walls there. If there Is any work he does it." 

She spoke to me while peeling the vegetables. 

"Of just to pass time." 

"Must be. He has to be on the banks of the Krishna before 
day-break whether there be gales, rains, floods or storms. He 
. has to fake a dip in the river. So also he goes to temple and the 
school. This is his unbreakable routine." 

From what Ramesh told me Mr. Padmanabham was a writer 
in school, neither a teacher nor a clerk. 

"He loves school very much. He may not go to temple if 
he is not well but he must visit the school every day. All the 
teachers who had worked with him have retired. The new 
teachers also respect him though his job wasn't big. From the 
headmaster down, every one reveres him. That's why we could 
give our children the best education though his salary was small. 

While 1 was dressing, . Mr. Padmanabham returned. 

"Have food and go. The sun is already high up," he said. 

"Yes my son! Food is ready. Eat and go," she seconded 

"No^ no. Actually I wanted to leave last night, itself." 


"I haven't given you much last night. 1 am not happy. Have 
food and go. We can't give you a grand meal. But we give out 
of whatever we have." 

Somehow I couldn't refuse her appeal. The affection in her 
tone fettered my feet. 

I went to the Krishna to bathe accompanied by Padmana- 
bham. Clothes were being washed on one side; on the other 
side were buffaloes. Still the Krishna was clear blue. 

After the bath in the pure waters of the Krishna I was 
refreshed. My energy was renewed. 

We went into the temple. 

The old Pujari looked at me with wonder and asked me my 
ancestors' name, which i could not tell. He mumbled some- 
thing — could have been reciting mantras or just abusing me. 
"These things may look absurd. But we must know who we are, 
who our ancestors are and where we belong. Without the seed, 
there is no plant, you see." 

He didn't know that I was a rose plant. I didn't say anything. 

The sun was scorching. We sat on the platform near the 

86/INDIAN literature : 156 

temple tower. It was pleasant. The cool breeze in the shadow 
of the tower. 1 felt like lying then and there to sleep. 

After the mid-day meal I started back. I handed over the 
money given by Ramesh to Mr. Padmanabham. 

“He said he would send more if you want," 1 told him. . 

"Tell him that 1 don't need any more," he said. 

"Is it enough to meet the need?'^ Subbayamma asked her 

"Yes! where is the limit for needs?" 

1 couldn't follow their talk. 

"It is for the room he is building in the school," she 
explained. "He is spending all the money sent by Ramesh for 
the room ... His pension is enough for both of us." 

1 didn't know what to say. There was something strange an 
out of the ordinary in his personality. He hasn't got a proper 
house to live in. Yet he was building a room in the school! Does 

Ramesh know this? . , 

"Tell my son, daughter-in-law and children that 1 enquire 
about them. Ask them to visit us when they can," she told me. 

"Let us go!" Perhaps Mr. Padmanabham wanted to say 
something to me in private. He came with me until we got out 
of the village. 

He got down from the car. "My wishes for a safe and happy 

Why did he come all the way? Perhaps he was unable to 
say what he wanted to say. 

"is there any message for your son?" 

He smiled. "Nothing much. 1 have a crisis this year. Anyway 
it may not be true. If it happens, she will be alone. If it happens 
... That's all. Nothing else. Tell Ramesh we are fine." 

Masterji walked towards the village, his solitary figure moving 
towards the temple-tower merging with its shadow. 

Does 'crisis' mean danger to his life? Does he anticipate is 
death? If so, how can he be so cool? , 

1 don't understand this country. I don't understan 
people here. How do they live in such poor circumstances wi 
so many diseases, hunger and ill-health? 

What do they live for? 


They have no desires, no ambition and no specific goals. 
But ... the country and the people have been going on in 
the same way for generations and centuries. 


A puzzling question indeed. 1 moved towards the distant 
horizons, pondering over the question. 


Translated from Telugu 
by C.L.L. Jayaprada. 



I T was difficult to say who used to wake up first, Asharfi Lai or 
8 his parrot; and equally difficult was it to determine which of 
the two used to usher in the dawn into that house and with it the 
awareness of its presence. Often it was .the parrot's note that 
roused Asharfi Lai from his slumbers; and often It was the footfall 
of Asharfi Lai, as he entered the verandah on leaving the bed, 
mat made the parrot raise it neck nestling into its soft feathers. 
The little creature would take two or three rounds in the cage 
and then exclaim. "Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey Sitaram 
i Soon the utterance would acquire a sort of 

rhythm : "Tain ... Tain ... Tununun ... Pattey Sitaram ... Sitaram," 
and then Asharfi Lai too would chant "Parho Pattey Sitaram ... 
Sitaram". But often his waking up and parrot's note came simul- 
taneously and if there was a time gap, it was only nominal, rather 
too minute to be discernible. 

morning again the two had woken up together, 
f u ^ looking through the window were taking stock 
or the darkness that was dissolving in the light of the dawn and 
the parrot was calling out, "Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey 
itaram ... S/taram." Asharfi Lai coming into the verandah joined 
e parrot s chant for a minute and left for his usual chores, 
e ore e had his bath, he cleaned the cage and poured a Jugful 
of water over the parrot to give it a bath too. 

Prayers over, he cut a piece of musk-melon and dropped it 
inside the cage and the parrot nibbled at it. Next he had his 
morning milk brought by his widowed sister. 

The family had only two members, he and bis widowed 
sister, and the third living inmate was the parrot. In the past there 


were two girls too besides his wife; the girls, however, were 
married off and his wife was dead. But there was one more 
woman in this house and then the parrot wasn't there. It came 
later. The woman's coming had dispelled the gloom and desol- 
ation and the house had got back its homeliness. 

There never was a word from him, nor a hint but if the 
matter came up, he shock his head dissentingly; "No, it won't 
be proper." But his sister guessed his need for another woman. 
To her, he was no better than a dropping plant languishing for 
water. He had long since ceased to relish the delicacies; his ever- 
fresh lips, reddish and aglow with betel were withering and dry. 
His nights were restless and he often woke up even when there 
were stars in the sky. When his sister sent for a girl and made 
her stand in front of him, he discovered such enchantment in 
her face that he couldn't withhold his consent. He forgot many 
realities — that he had rejected similar proposals previously, that 
he was in his fifties, that his hair had turned grey, that he was 
the maternal grandfather of the children of his own daughters, 
and that he would be a laughing stock of the town. 

There was a wart on the right side of his sister's lip with a 
cluster of long hair growing on it and that made her loop very 
practical. He would say to her, with an unconcealed smile spread 
wide on his face, "It looks as if you can't live in this house without 
a sister-in-law." 

The Pandit soon found an auspicious date and girl came 
into the house as a bride. He gave her a necklace of 'asharfis' 
to impress on her the significance of his own name. He gave her 
gay-coloured saris, brought her sweets every night and 
demanded a son of her. 

Life was a lark now. Laughter burst out of her; there was 
intoxication in her gait; her sari slipped down her head; she 
turned the bangles on her wrist round and round and they clinked 
with a sweet note; she sucked one of her fingers ... And when 
he was going to his shop, she would stand in his way and say, 
"Give me a rupee. I will have 'chat' today" or "Do bring tamarind 
for me if you'get it, and wood-apple too. 1 like them very much 
with salt." 

She was more of a girl than a bride, he felt. Her youthful 


waywardness often frightened him and he did his best to cut 
down the effect of his years — he started dyeing his hair, trimming 
his moustache and using the Vaid's invigorating tonics with milk. 
But he knew his limitations. He alone could not bridge the wide 
gap of thirty or thirty-two years that lay between them. If he was 
lowering his age, simultaneously she must raise hers. That alone 
was the way out. 

But it looked as if she was clutching on to her youthfulness 
tightly. She didn't want to grow out of her teens. She applied 
thick collyrium to her eyes, rubbed her heels smooth and plaited 
her hair in the courtyard. 

And Asharfi Lai's fear increased when his sister, with a scowl 
on her waited face, complained against her, as he returned from 
the shop, "Suman Bhabhi was at the window for long hours; 
she talked to the postman; she gave water to the knife-grinder; 
she had the bear-man perform at the door; she went to the house 
of Master Saheb for half an hour and overstayed for two." 

He scolded her few talking to strangers and forbade her 
stepping out of the house. She suppressed her exasperation with 
a smile and said, "Am 1 to rot in this house?" 

Holi had come. She was standing at the door as though she 
were the spring. Two college boys, Shyam and Tarun, who lived 
in the lane, threw colour at her; then they forced their way into 
the house and rubbed 'gulal' on her cheeks. On hearing about 
it Asharfi Lai had reproved her, "I don't like this rowdyism." 

Her retort was, "Am I too to grow old just because you are 
old?" He was stunned for a moment, as though the entire 
mechanism of his mind had stopped with a jerk or they very 
senses were benumbed. Then, beside himself with anger, he had 
thrashed her with kicks and blows. 

"You bitch. I'll trim this adultery out of you." But after this 
he was still more frightened of his wife. The next day he offered 
her a gold 'jhoomar' and on the morrow a 'zari embroidered 
sari' costing four hundered rupees. 

She went to the pictures with one of her companions, mar- 
ried and of her own age, and that was without anybody's permis- 
sion. That evening he again beat her; but on the morrow he gave 
her a gold ring studded with stones. 


A few days after this, much against the wishes of his widowed 
sister, she went to a fair in the company of the women and the 
girls in the neighbourhood. Her spirits soared. She rambled about 
from end to end, warbing like a song bird; She sucked ice candies, 
ate 'chat' and rode high on the merry-go-round. The excitement 
had given her wings. She was brimming with joy. 

That evening he beat his wife again. As the kicks and fists 
rained on her, she knew that some of her tenderest and rosiest 
dreams lay smashed and blood-stained in the dust. 

The next day when he was at the shop, a man came running 
to tell him that his wife had committed suicide. On reaching 
home, he saw her corpse dangling from the ceiling rafters. He 
could not understand why she had done it. He had given her 
his best, almost everything; and just for a little restraint on her 
she had done it. Why? The thought corroded him. 

It was nine when Asharfi Lai left for the shop with his bunch 
of keys and the red cloth bag with cash. In winter he left at ten. 
The time for opening the shop depended on the time of the year. 
He traded in coir ropes and cotten and dealt in pulses and 
ground-nuts with a cautious eye on the market. It was a safe 
business and he had never known any losses due to his vigilance. 
As he was opening the shop the newspaper arrived. His interest 
in it was confined to news about market rates, proposed taxes, 
income tax raids, tales of miracles and accidents, international 
affairs and political upheavals had a low priority for him. He had 
deep faith in what the stars foretold and knew broadly the way 
to propitiate the unfavourable ones. 

It was noon by time he disposed off his customers an.d his 
lunch having come, he snatched some time for it. it was usual 
for him to have it at the shop. The pressure of customers 
decreased by the afternoon and then he prepared a statement 
of accounts of the sales and of what he had to pay and receive. 
He closed the shop at seven and before leaving, as was his habit, 
he checked up the locks. A servant boy used to live inside the 
shop one and a half year ago. This arrangement had solved the 
problem of lodging for the boy and secured free services of a 
watchman for the shop. 

This boy was a youngster of thirteen or fourteen years from 

92/INDIAN literature : 156 

the hills and quite like any other highlander was short-statured, 
flat-faced and brown-complexioned. Lakshman Singh, the peon 
of the Punjab National Bank, had brought him and in his native 
accent, with 'Sh's predominating, he had said, "Lala Shaab, 
employ him; he'll do all your wok and you'll have no cause for 

Asharfi Lai did need a servant. The old servant at the shop 
was often ill, even otherwise, he felt the need for another man, 
particularly during rush hours. Lakshman Singh's terms 
were : two meals a day to the boy and twenty five rupees a 
month as pay; any increase in pay only after a year or two, 
depending on his work. 

It worked out to be cheap. He calculated that it would come 
to seventy-five rupees in all and a good servant could not have 
even for one hundred and twenty-five or one hundred and fifty 

He used to buy household goods two at the shop-winnow- 
ers, sieves, mats and the parrot. But the parrot came much after 
engaging the servant. ' 

He had decided that the servant would have bis meals at 
home but would sleep at the shop. The shop was sufficiently 
large and was provided with a latrine at the back and a handpump 
and other facilities. When he locked in the boy the first night, 
he had asked, him, "Won't you be frightened?" 

The boy, his teeth sparkling like maize-seeds, bad replied, 
"Shaab, I'm not afraid on the hills. 1 used to go out in the forests 
for cutting wood and there were bears." 

The next morning, after opening the lock, he had asked the 
boy again, "Were you afraid?" 

This time the sparkling teeth weren't there as he replied, 
"Rats! A lot of them! They were a nuisance and allowed me no 
sleep." Asharfi Lai had laughed at this and said, "If you live here 
at night, the rats will run away. They will take you for a highland 
cat." The boy's eyes were bluish and they actually shone like 
those of a cat. 

He locked the boy inside the shop every night and took him 
out in the morning. On Fridays, when the market was closed, 
he took him home and made him clean the rooms and wash the 


The boy's name was jeevan Singh. His father had a little 
land; when his mother died, the father remarried and then began 
his woes. His step mother maltreated him, denied him food, got 
him beaten on false accusations and made life a nightmare for 
him on the birth of a son. He left home in desperation. 

In Asharfi Lai's estimation, the boy was intelligent and honest 
and there never was any need to remind him of his duties. He 
climbed up the racks like a monkey and cut the rope of the 
required length in one stroke without disturbing the coil. And 
when a currency note of twenty rupees slipped out of Asharfi 
Lai's pocket, the boy handed it back to him. 

After fifteen days jeevan began to receive money for tea. 
The windowed sister was asked to treat the boy indulgently and 
give him snacks too. He was given an old carpet and was prom- 
ised new clothes on festivals like Holi and Dushera if he worked 
honetly and diligently. 

It was common experience that servants didn't stay after a 
few months and he didn't want to lose Jeevan now that he had 
got a good one by luck. His coming had given him great relief. 
He didn't permit him to sit anywhere 'else, lest petty-natured 
shop-keepers might tempt him and wean him away from him. 
He was a shy boy and even when he had ho work, he preferred 
to stay at the shop and watch the busy market scene. His shyness 
made his face all the more innocent. 

When Asharfi Lai watched him intently, he felt that a bloom 
had come over. He asked him, "Are you happy jeevan?" Eyes 
bent, he replied, "I am." 

He had been with him for two months and they were satisfied 
with each other. One day as the market was closed, he brought 
the boy home. After cleaning the floors, the youngster asked, 
"Lala Shaab, is there a river here? I'll do the washing and the 
bathing there." 

"Have it at the tap in the lane." 

"But i would rather have it in the river. On hills I used to 
bathe in the river," he countered. 

When he reached the river, he was in ecstacy. Enchanted, 
he looked at its blue water. He felt as if the river had eyes and 
they smiled as they watched him; the river had hands and they 

94/INDIAN literature : 156 

beckoned him; the river had legs and they were running, perhaps 
towards his own village. 

He went down into the water and began to swim, supine, 
upside down or under water. He entwined his hands and legs 
with those of the river. 

There was a high mound on the bank and coming out of 
the water he climbed over it. The two goats grazing there 
bounded down, the moment they saw him. He thought of the 
goats in his village and they too used to scamper like these 
animals. From here he surveyed the spaces — the sky spread all 
around him was bathed in light. 

He returned after two hours. 

After the meals, he was again locked up as usual. 

The next week the boy again insisted on going to the river. 

That day too the river beckoned him and, all smiles, ran 
with him, and he swam like a fish for long hours. He climbed 
over the mound, as on the previous occasion. Far in the distance 
was a railway train running on its tracks. The sight was absorbing. 
A bird descended on his head and flew away the next moment. 
Wide eyed, he stared at the bird soaring in the blue sky. 

On returning from the river, the boy asked Asharfi Lai to 
settle his dues. He would go back to his village, he said. He was 
firm and unyielding. 

Asharfi Lai couldn't understand why the boy left him. He 
had given him sweetened cakes that very morning. Why did he 
then? Why did he then? The thought ate him away. 

"Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey Sitaram ... 

Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey Sitaram ... Sitaram ... the 
parrot was chanting loudly. 

Asharfi Lai went near the cage and joined in "Sitaaram ... 
Sitaaram. " „ 

"Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey Sitaram ... 

Even when Asharfi Lai leftout the refrain, "Parho Pattey' , t e 
parrot repeated it invariably. He often thought that he 
have left out this superfluous accertion when he had taught i . 
Now he felt that the refrain was addressed to him. . 

The parrot came to the bars of the cage and rested its nec 
against its walls. It wanted to be caressed. Asharfi Lai inserting 


two of his fingers between the bars caressed it lovingly. 

A red band was growing prominent round its neck and it 
was dark at some places and yellowish at some. Aiong-J V it 
was emerging a black velvet line that indicated that the parrot 
had entered adulthood. 

It was a skinny weakling when he had bought it and he had 
wondered if it would be of any use, but the fowler had assured 
him that young parrots were always good at learning while the 
old ones weren't. It soon grew into a handsome creature. 

Asharfi Lal dropped a piece of banana and it began to peck 

at it. 

There was the news of armed insurrection in some country 
but Asharfi Lai had no interest in it. 

He dropped a piece of sweet in the cage on his return from 
the shop. 

Before retiring to bed, he had hang the cage from a hook 
on the verandah. During winters, he covered it with a thick cloth. 
The fowler had said that its sweet note would endear it to him 
more than his kith and kin. 

The little creature brought for two rupees had actually 
become a part of his family. 

"Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey Sitaram ... Sitaram." 
It was morning. Asharfi Lal dropped a pealed lichi in the cage. 

"Tain . . . Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey . . . Sitaram . . . Sitaram. ” 
One more morning. Asharfi Lal dropped in an 'aloocha'. 

When the parrot stood on one leg with eyes covered with 
a white film, it looked like a sage in deep meditation. 

"Tain ... Tain ... Tun .... Parho Pattey Sitaram ... Sitaram." 
There was one more morning. 

The newspaper had the report of a colonial country gaining 
independence. He had left in unread. 

The newspaper had the report of the burning down of the 
huts of the untouchables for their having refused to do forced 
labour. He had no interest in this report too. 

"Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey Sitaram ... Sitaram." 
One more morning. 

Asharfi Lal was cleaning his cage. Somebody was at the 
door and he went out to see him. When he came back, he' found 

96/iNDIAN literature ; 156 

that he had forgotten to close the door of the cage and the parrot 
was standing on one leg on the top of the cage and drying up 
its wet feathers. He dropped in a piece of apple and the parrot 
returned to the cage. It had happened once before. The parrot 
had taken the cage for its home. Lovingly he watched it coral 
beak and then carressed it silken-banded neck. 

"Tain ... Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey ... Sitaram Sitaram 
..."One more morning. 

"Tain . . . Tain ... Tun ... Parho Pattey . . . Sitaram . . . Sitaram. " 
one morning. 

The sky was growing deep blue. The light of the sun was 
pure and luminous. The branches of the trees were wearing 
multi-coloured plumes. Gold had entered the ears of the corn 
in the fields. Fragrance had merged with the breezes. 

A long green tailed parrot descended from the sky, settled 
on the cage and began to give calls. The parrot inside the cage 
got restless and began to screech. The one outside circled in the 
sky several times and came back to the cage. The parrot inside 
the cage flapped its wings frantically and cried hoarsely. 

The parrot outside flew up again and its wings gave to the 
sky an enchantingly larger dimension. 

On returning from the shop, Asharfi Lai found the parrot 
restless; its was shaking the bars up violently with its beak. It was 
transformed into a different creature. He dropped in a piece of 
sweet, but the parrot was indifferent to it. He tried to soothe it 
by caressing it neck, but it sprang to bite his finger. 

It was morning again; like any other morning. But no, it was 
different. The parrot wasn't chanting. Asharfi Lai came to the 
verandah. One of the bars was bent and it was stretching neck 
through it. The spread out wings and the folded up legs made 
one feel that the parrot was flying with the cage. 

Even today Asharfi Lai failed to understand why the parrot 
had killed itself by straining its neck out through the bars ... 


Translated from Hindi 
by Rajeshwar Sahai Bedar 

One Teietj OncReadin^ 

Given below are a Tamil short story by Pudumaipithan in English 
translation and a study of the story by its translator-critic. IL would 
like to have a regular column featuring such texts (stories/poems/ 
plays) and their intimate readings-Ed. 



W HEN the evening is upon it, the city gets transformed. As 
if to prove the proposition that civilisation is a road on 
which you tread your way jostling and being jostled. And the 
crush gets unbearable at those nerve centres of the city, the 
ganglions of the urban anatomy where four or five big roads and 
tram lines meet. Here you find late commuters well-dressed peo- 
ple out to enjoy the night; those who can't afford the luxury of 
a ride in a car but are yet bent on showing themselves off, all of 
them elbowing each other, each going his own way through this 
egalitarian jostle. And that's just how these people were moving 
about that day. 

Ever since the rule of one-way-traffic came into operation, 
one has only to look down from the top of a high-rise building 
to observe the swirl of civilisation. It is like watching the rush of 
flood waters straining against the banks. 

Ah yes, that's just the place I was going to tell you about. 
The round-about at Mount Road. There was that row of women- 
vendors, each sitting behind her basket of bananas or mangoes, 
and behind -them, those poor women of the city who suck at 
the mango-stones, and wipe their hands on their clothes. The 
Kabuliwallah with his baton, doing his rounds. The Muslim beg- 

98/iNDIAN literature ; 156 

gar, the lame beggar, the leprous beggar. Then there was that 
young woman sitting at the far edge of the foot path, combing 
her hair and beautifying herself for her night's profession. Calmly, 
phlegmatically. And there was the usual crowd with their "It's 
been so long." 

"Ah, there's the bus" "Get in" and all that. "Hurry. Hurry. 

And there it was, that he lay dying, dying leisurely, stretching 
himself flat on the footpath at the brink of the road. 

It was a good place to die. In the pleasant shade of a tree, 
with the heat of the day changing to the mild warmth of the 
setting sun. And there was the surrounding hustle and bustle of 
humanity on the move. It was royal revelry, so to say. 

It was then that he lay dying, unhurriedly dying. 

People were going that way. People were coming that way. 
Quite unaware of what was happening to him. Some of them 
did not want to know either. He was an old Muslim beggar. His 
beard had turned quite grey. Age and starvation had reduced 
his limbs to sticks, and his feet were calloused. 

Sitting by him was another beggar. He was holding the old 
man's head up and trying to make him drink some water from 
a tin vessel. Finding this impossible, he then moistened the old 
man's lips. Then, thrusting his hands under the old man's head, 
he tried to lift him up. The old man who was lying flat, I mean 
the one who was dying, caught hold of the metal bin beside him 
one of those bins provided by the all-merciful city corporation- 
and tried to lever himself up. His eyes had dimmed, lips had 
turned blue. In a little while, his story would find its finale. Yet 
he did not loosen his grip on the bin. There was a consolation 
in that grip, a strength. He did not seem to be aware that someone 

was sitting by his side and was offering him water. It was merely 
that water happened to reach him and it must be drunk. He had 
no desire, no need, no strength to think any further. 

Two persons walked up to this spot and stood there, waiting 
to board a tram. No tram appeared for quite some time. Of the 
two, one was a man of thirty, the other, a little girl of four or 
five. Father and daughter. The father did not appear to be the 
sort that finds it a constant struggle to provide for a family. There 


was nothing remarkable about the child. But she was scrubbed 
clean and was unfussily dressed, it was easy to see that she had 
a careful mother. 

So there they were, the child and the father, standing, waiting 
for a tram. After some more standing and waiting, they felt drawn 
to the fruits in the vendor's basket on the opposite kerb. The 
mangoes seemed quite good. 

"Little one, let appa go across and buy some mangoes for 
you. You must stay right here. Okay?" said the father. 


"And don't you try to cross. No stepping down onto the 
road. Understand? Or else you don't get any fruit." 

He felt a slight qualm at what he was doing. One shouldn't 
leave a child alone. 

But the girl urged him on, "I'll stay right here, appa.” She 
made it sound like a solemn oath. 

The father went across the road, leaving the girl alone. 

She seemed to be brave, quite used to being left to wait 
alone.. Once she overcame the initial fear, she took her eyes off 
the receding figure of her father and began to watch around. 

A red car caught the girl's eye. As she stood looking at it, 
someone in a hurry rushed past her, knocking against her. 
Perhaps his thoughts were racing along in some world beyond 


our own. The girl staggered. To avoid being knocked about any 
further, she walked over to the wall at the far side of the footpath, 
foregoing even the pleasure of watching the car. Leaning on the 
wall, a hand in her pocket, she surveyed the scene around her. 

Her eyes now fell on the man who was dying and the one 
who was helping him die. Wondering what sort of fun this was, 
she took a few hesitant steps and moved closer to them. 

Her mother had often forced a glass of milk down her throat. 
But if her father said he didn't want something, she wouldn't 
force it on him. Even her mother was afraid of her father. From 
this, the girl had deduced the rule that grown-ups had the right 
to refuse, to say no. So she found it funny that a grown man 
should be force-fed with a tumbler thrust at his mouth. 

She walked up to the beggar pair to watch the fun and stood 
by the old man's head. 

The younger beggar was still trying to give the old man some 
water, but his hands were unaccustomed to the job. The water 
either came out in a sudden spurt, flowing down the old man's 
neck, or never left the tumbler. 

The old man was dying, holding on to the metal bin. 

The girl rounded her lips as if to sip water, and said, "Gently, 

The man pouring the water looked up. "No, little one, this 
is no place for you," he said. "Go and stand somewhere else." 


"This man is dying". 

"What does that mean?" 

"Dying-going to die — "Then he demonstrated what he 
meant, letting his head fall forward in a sudden, limp, lurch. 

The child found it funny. "Do it again", she said. 

Not wanting to collect a crowd, the beggar covered his 
mouth with his hand and gestured to her to move off. 

The girl's eyes now fell on a couple of coins lying near the 
old man's head, paisas left there to indicate that it was a collection 
for his last rites. 

Pointing at the man lying on the ground, the girl said, "Why 
don't you get him some fried peas ?" her assumption being that 
others were bound to like what she herself liked. 

pudumaipithan/1 01 

The young man looked round to make sure that there were 
no adults nearby who might take him to task, and then asked 
the child, "Have you any money?" She handed him a coin. 
"There you are. A new coin." 

With a swift movement, he caught what the child was offering 
him. it was a freshly minted paisa. So the child had given a gift — a 
danam. Like those efforts of millionaires to eradicate hunger by 
establishing a few soup kitchens for the poor, a few anna-daha- 
samajams. Or like trying to make the seas aromatic by dissolving 
asafoetida in the water. 

Eyes clouded over, a hand holding on to the metal bin, the 

old man kept dying. People kept coming. People kept going. 

An anna coin slipped and fell down from the hand of some- 
one rushing past. In too much of a hurry even to notice his loss, 
he just walked off and was soon lost in the crowd. The beggar 
swooped on the coin and looked all round to see if anyone had 
been watching him. 

"Now, little girl, you'd better go", he said, hoping to per- 
suade her. 

"No, I won't", said the gjrl, and stood firm, spreading her 
feet apart and making faces at him. 

The young beggar now spoke to the old man: 

"Savva, i'll get some milk for you." He stood up and walked 

102/INDIAN literature : 156 

across the road, towards the restaurant on the opposite side. 

The old man didn't hear him. He kept dying, holding on to 
the metal bin. 

The girl now moved closer to the man to watch him better, 
for the younger bugaboo was no longer there to chase her away. 
The old man was not conscious enough to be aware of the child s 

He kept holding on to the battered old bin, himself but a 
battered old creature, no better than scrap. The child found it 
all quite new — the old man's face, his beard, the way he opened 
his mouth ... A fly settled on his bluish lips. Then came a second. 
The man opened his mouth and worked his lips in an attempt 
to rid himself of the flies. The girl found the sight amusing. Some- 
how, she felt like calling him. "Bawa", she called softly, imitating 
the young beggar, though in her heart of hearts she did feel a 
fear — what if this bugaboo shoufd sit up? 

And there the man lay, his eyes wide open. A fly came and 
sat. on the pupil of his eye. 

"I say what' re you up to?" The angry words reached her. 
"What're you standing there for? Here I am, searching for you 
all over the place." 

It was the righteous indignation of a man who had at last 
bought two mangoes at his own rate, after a bargaining session 
that had turned into an altercation. 

"I was just watching this Sawa-bugaboo, appa/' explained 
the girl, as she ran up to her father. 

The father lifted the child up. With some difficulty, she took 
hold of a mango, for she found it heavy, and sniffed at it. "Smells 
nice!" she said, and rubbed her little nose on it. 

"Mahaa Masanam" 

Translated from Tamil 
by Gomathi Narayanan 



P UDUMAIPITHAN once pointed out that a general tone of 
pessimism characterises his writing. Critics who agree with 
the author's assessment of himself have taken his Tamil short 
story, “Maha Masanam" as a good example of this aspect of his 
work. However, this much-loved and much-discussed story de- 
serves to be examined again, since it grapples with the author's 
deepest obsessions and fears. A close analysis of the structure, 
action and psychological resonances of this story can bring to 
light the tension between opposites that pervades the narrative, 
and show that the final tilt is in favour of affirmation rather than 

The title of the story, “Maha-Masanam" is the Tamilised 
form of the Sanskrit Maha-Smasana. The word refers to the city 
of Benares, as the "Ultimate Cremation Ground". Its connota- 
tions go further: it can also mean pra/aya or the end of all creation. 
In Pudumaipithan's story, the immediate reference, however, is 
to Madras, a typical city of Modern India, where a beggar lies 
dying on the footpath of a busy thoroughfare, while humanity 
rushes past, paying scarce heed to this everyday phenomenon. 
But the responsive reader, alerted by the evocative title, is attuned 
to hear the overtones of the theme, which is nothing less than 
Life amidst Death. Madt'as, then, becomes anywhere. The burn- 

104/ind)an literature ise 

ing ghats of Benares are everywhere, since Death has no local 
habitation. Looked at from this perspective, the story attains a 
deeper meaning and leads us towards a new understanding of 
Pudumaipithan's genius. 

“Maha-Masanam" opens with a description of the frenetic 
activity on the. city streets in the evening, when "the crush gets 
unbearable at those nerve centres of the city, the ganglions of 
the urban anatomy." It is as if "civilisation is a road on which 
you thread your way jostling and being jostled." After giving a 
panoramic view of this "swirl of civilisation" at Mount Road, the 
author's pen, like a film-maker's camera, zooms in to focus on 
the denizens of the Round Thana,.like "the Muslim beggar, the 
lame beggar, the leprous beggar", the fruit vendors and prosti- 

This introductory section, which stresses hurry as the key- 
note of modern city life, ends with the words, "Hurry, hurry, 
hurry." Then comes a sudden contrast that jolts the reader vyith 
the next paragraph which consists of a single sentence: 

"And then it was that he lay dying, dying leisurely, stretching 
himself flat on the footpath at the verge of the road." 

The collocation of the words "dying" and "leisurely" is 
startling. When read in Tamil the adverb savakasamaka (in a 
leisurely manner) with its three long drawn out a's makes the 
beggar's death appear a deliberately drawn out process, as if he 
were wilfully going about this business of death at his own sweet 
pace. This sentence is repeated with variations several times in 
the course of the story. The hint here is that an unhurried pace 
is a luxury that only the dying can afford. 

Giving full rein to his penchant for irony, the author points 
out that it was a good place to die, with the heat of the depart- 
ing sun turning pleasantly warm and the bustle of humanity all 
around. People move on, neither realising nor wanting to find 
out what was happening to the beggar: "The old man kept dying. 
People kept coming. People kept going." 

While describing the slow process of dying, the author also 
includes a detail that stresses the tenacity with which man clings 
to life. Eyes dimmed, lips turning blue, flies settling on his face, 
the dying beggar still clings on to the rusted municipal bin on 

GOMATHI narayanan/105 

the footpath; "There was a consolation in that grip, astrength." 

This old beggar is not utterly alone even in this heartless 
city. There is a young beggar by his side who tries to give him 
some water, though without much success. 

Having thus established-a pair of characters on the footpath, 
the author brings on another pair to this spot: "Two persons 
walked up to this spot and stood there, wanting to board a tram." 
The induction of this pair on to the scene is worded in such a 
way as to cause a momentary mystification. They are at first 

. !. 

described as "two persons", (per, nabar in Tamil), leading us to 
imagine them both as adults. Then the author goes on to say 
that the first person was a man of thirty and the second person 
a girl of four or five. As we prepare to shed the adultist bias 
inherent in language, which misled us at first, we realise that this 
turning point in the story is important enough for the author to 
merit five sentences, rather than a single straight forward state- 
ment. For, the rest of the story goes on to prove that the child 
is a "person" a new entity, not an adult's shadow. 

"So there they were, the child and the father, standing, 
waiting for a tram. After some more standing and waiting, they 

106/iNDIAN literature : 156 

felt drawn to the fruits in the vendor's baskets on the opposite 

The father decides to go alone to buy some mangoes, and 
admonishes the girl; "No stepping down on to the road, under- 
stand? Or else you don't get any fruit." We half expect the girl 
to disobey as in archetypal stories of transgression. But this girl 
overcomes her initial fear and is soon absorbed in the attractions 
on her own side of the road. She gets knocked about by the 
passers by and moves away to where the old beggar lies dying. 

At this point, the reader wonders why the father did not take 
the girl along with him. But it was essential for Pudumaipithan's 
scheme to bring the girl face to face with DeatK. So he makes 
the father feel a slight qualm at leaving the child alone, and then 
depart with a warning. 

Now that the child is left alone to witness death we get a 
picture of this dreaded event, devoid of all the usual associations 
of fear, pity and sentimental hypocrisy. The grimness that sur- 
rounds the idea of death yields place to humour. This brand of 
humour, which we recognize as "gallows humour" is but another 
human subterfuge to mitigate the fearsome connotations of mor- 

There is a close parallel to the minutely observed and obses- 
sively described account of the process of dying that we find in 
"Maha-Masanam" in another short story by Pudumaipithan 
"Ghellammal." What makes the account so moving in "Chellam- 
mal" is the presence of a character who is personally involved 
with the dying woman. 

In "Maha-Masanam", on the other hand, there is no room 
for personal involvement or tenderness. Here, Pudumaipithan 
explores the various degrees of non-involvement with which 
death may be treated: the callous indifference of the passing 
crowd, the matter-of-fact and unemotional involvement of the 
young beggar and the innocent unconcern of the child. It is 
possible therefore, to treat this story as representing a crucial 
stage in Pudumaipithan's lifelong dialogue with Death. 

The chil.d watches the process of dying — ^the dimmed eyes, 
the bluish lips, the flies settling on them, the mouth working to 
drive them away ... The young beggar asks her to leave the 


place, but she refuses, digging herself In and making faces at 
him. When he tells her that the old man was dying, she asks 
him, "What does that mean?" 

"What is death?" This question is flung at Pudumaipithan 
himself in another short story, "Kapadapuram" The best he 
could do when pressed thus, is to mumble something to the 
effect that no religion has yet answered the question satisfactorily. 

In contrast, the unlettered young beggar of "Maha-Masanam" 
tackles the question beautifully. Uncluttered by any metaphysical 
speculation, he answers the question with simple pantomime: 
He lets his head fall forward in a sudden, limp, lurch. That is all 
there is to death, a mere physical phenomenon. 

The child finds this action funny and asks the beggar to do 
it again. In point of fact, the child finds the whole process of 
dying hugely amusing. The author points out that she had moved 
closer to observe "the man who was dying," "wondering what 

108/INDIAN literature : 156 

sort of fun this was." She also finds it funny that a grown man 
should be force-fed from a tumbler at his mouth. In her experi- 
ence, such a procedure is strictly for children. 

The young beggar tries to persuade the girl to leave the place. 
But the girl refuses; so the young man decides to make the best 
of the situation and asks her for money. She' gives him a coin, a 
new coin. "It was a freshly minted paisa, the child had given a 
gift, a danam, somewhat like millionaires's gestures of charity. 

Here one realises how the child's-eye-yiew has changed the 
frightening, revolting and tragic spectacle of death into something 
amusing. The secret lies in the ability to look at things anew; 

"The child found it all new {pudumai), the old mart's face, 
his beard, the way he opened his mouth ..." The author's inten- 
tion in calling his authorial persona "Pudumaipithan" (Mad after 
the New) is therefore not merely to welcome the new and the 
modern, but also to look anew at some of the old facts of life/ 
like Death. 

Even the coin that the child hands over to the beggar is a 
new coin. The authorial voice that comments on this gesture is 
ironic and stresses the futility of such efforts at amelioration. Yet, 
the gesture counts, and the newness of the coin counts as we , 
since it is guilt-free, not being a sop to the conscience like a u 

This comic encounter between Innocence and Experience 
comes to a close when the young beggar leaves the place to ge 
some milk. Now the girl moves closer to the dying man. 
unafraid of death as an abstraction, because it is beyond er 
comprehension, she still has the childish fear of "bugaboos. ^ 
This she overcomes, with some initial trepidation and manage 
to call the beggar "Bawa", ihnitating the young beggar. The at e 
now returns with the mangoes, scolds the girl and carries 6 
away from the scene. The story ends thus: 

With some difficulty, she took hold of a mango, for she *! 

heavy, and sniffed at it. "Smells nice" she said, and rubbed e 
little nose on it. 

What makes "Maha Masanam" unique in the Pudumaipkh^^ 
canon is the fact that in this story two prominent features 

GOMATHI narayanan/109 

Pudumaipithan's writings — his pre-occupation with death and 
his love for children — are brought together. These two facets of 
his personality, after all, are not unrelated to each other, in "Maha 
Masanam" he lets these two halves of his own psyche confront 
each other. By looking at Death through the eyes of a child, he 
also works out a reconciliation between Life and Death. 

The core of the story as described above, is acted out by 
two pairs of characters. A beggar and his attendant form the first 
pair, while a girl and her father make up the second pair, if the 
first pair, whom the author describes as "the man who was dying 
and the one who was helping him die" are associated with Death, 
then the father-child pair stands for Life. The young beggar is the 
"helper" character to borrow a term from V. Propp in the first 
pair. The father fulfils this role in the second pair. After a while, 
both the helpers leave their charges, the young beggar to fetch 
milk for the dying man and the father to buy mangoes for the 
child, and thus the child is left alone with Death. 

Besides the contrasts between hurry and leisure, life and 
death, young girl and old man, there is another pair of opposites 
that sustains the tension further, namely, the opposite sides of 
the road. The other side of the road provides succour: the father 
goes there for fruit; the young beggar goes there to get milk. 
Some of the city's temptations are also to be found there, for 
there, sits the prostitute decking herself. She, like the old beggar, 
is preparing herself for the night. An ambivalent figure, she is, in 
a sense, the equivalent of the beggar on the other side, since 
she happens to be the only other character who is described as 
going about her business "in a leisurely manner." 

Throughout the story, one is constantly aware that this jostle 
of fife, this swirl of civilisation, is one that Pudumaipithan himself 
had been forced to join. Difficulties with his father, and his own 
stubborn refusal to earn.a living by bowing to authority, had left 
him no choice but to come to this city in search of a living. 
Having landed without a paisa in this city, will he become another 
beggar on the footpath? Or lose himself in this crowd as another 
faceless, heartless member of this urban culture? That seems to 
be the unasked question, while the unspoken assurance is that 
he will join neither the crowd nor the beggar, neither be burdened 


by guilt nor turn away from life, but be free like a child, enjoying 
the fruits of life plucked from this very cremation ground. 

This personal dilemma appears to be subsumed in the eternal 
struggle between Life and Death that 'is overtly depicted in th'e 
story. That the author is dealing with the deepest layers of his 
creative consciousness in this story is evident from the echoes 
of "Kapadapuram" heard here. "Kapadapuram" is a surrealistic 
fantasy which gives much freer rein to the prompting of the 
unconscious than the subdued and controlled craft of "Maha 

Masanam”. In "Kapadapuram” the protagonist finds himself in 
a nightmarish landscape which includes a carnivorous tree that 
eats human beings. After the protagonist, who is also the first 
person narrator, has watched the tree consuming a man, he is 
offered the "milk" of this tree to drink. A Siddhapurusha then 
admonishes him thus; 

One should not be revolted by the thought of e.iting a mango 
plucked from a tree at a cremation ground. (Emphasis added). 


That perhaps is the truth about living, not only in- a metropolis, 
but anywhere in this world. Life has to be lived amidst Death. 
One learns to ignore the battered old bins that dying old man 
cling on to. One has to concentrate on the fruit in one's’ own 
hands. The girl finds the fruits heavy. So what? It smells nice. 
This is only a nonchalant acceptance of the ironies of the human 
condition. Yet the bitterness of the opening, which contained 
the adult view of the world, has been tempered by the child's 
perspective into something bitter-sweet at the end of the story. 

If, as all critics agree, some of the most charming children 
in Tamil literature are to be found in Pudumaipithan's short 
stories, it is because they represent the positive forces of life, 
something freshly minted, absolutely new. The author seems to 
identify himself with these children. There could be no better 
symbol of Pudumaipithan's childlike and defiant enjoyment of 
life (despite the deprivations forced on him by the petty hostility 
of society) than that picture of the child inhaling the fragrance of 
the mango, having forgotten the scene of death. Perhaps this 
also signifies his arriving at a personal equation with the city he 
hated, making faces at authority just as the child does, and watch- 
ing the fun as an outsider, undaunted by its dying beggars and 
unsullied by its callous hurVianity. 




F inding mysticism in literature has long been a staple of work 
by both academic and journalistic critics in India. Though 
especially the classic Indian texts are assumed to incorporate the 
mystical, that quality has also supposedly been identified in texts 
written elsewhere and later. Indian academics in English literature 
are fond of writing about mysticism in everything from Shake- 
speare's dramas and Spenser's epics to Carlyle's and Emerson's 
essays, from Wordsworth's and Shelley's to Whitman's, Frost's 
and T.S. Eliot's poems. The accolade of literary mystic has been 
extended to novelists from the Brontes to John Barth, and, to 
move outside of English, from Dostoievsky and Tolstoy to Kafka 
and Proust. Naturally, when Indian critics turn their attention to 
almost any text written by a South Asian — from Tagore to Raja 
Rao, Subramania Bharati to Salman Rushdie, U.R. Ananthamur- 
thy to Hanif Kureishi, Gopalakrishna Adiga to jayanta Maha- 
patra — it can be assumed that mysticism of some sort will soon 
be discovered. When Indian critics regularly link a particular 
literary trait — in this case, mysticism — with a body of literary 
work circumscribed according to its Indian national or regional 
origin, that practice reflects a nativist kind of Orientalism. In 
effect, these critics are defining the essential character of 'Indian' 
writing (or its highest examples) in very reductive terms, more 
specificalTy, by the single stereotypical quality that Western (and 
Indian) Orientalists have long attached to the matter of India: 
"spirituality." That mysticism and Indian literature are customarily 
linked critical categories signifies, therefore, a profound theore- 


tical and imaginative circumscription around a complex on-going 
society that quite evidently enjoys a much more diverse historical 
and multicultural character. 

One cannot ignore, to be sure, the congeries of Western 
critics who have also delighted in supposedly finding Oriental 
mysticism, if only of a Near Eastern, Judaeo-Christian variety, 
embedded in classic Western literature and thus, by rights of 
inheritance and influence, in more modern Amero-European wri- 
tings. In Western tradition, at least since medieval times, a strain 
of Christian saints aimed and claimed, as in Indian thought, to 
transcend the earthly and achieve a dissociated mystic state in 
a "cloud of unknowing", something like nirvana, without neces- 
sarily conceiving, in the Hindu non-dualistic scheme, of this life 
as maya, mere illusion. But the Western purveyors of this radically 
transcendental notion of the mystical have always been a decided 
minority, usually quite marginalized by culturally more powerful 
interests that entangle religious thinking with social, psychological 
and political issues. In literature, furthermore. Western culture's 
emphasis has been on the transformative power of the word, on 
metaphor, as a way to understand, spiritually or otherwise, more 
or less the same world we ordinarily inhabit. In the major Indian 
tradition, literature is seen to embody the Law, the Dharma, 
ultimate Truth, or, in Aurobindo Ghose's terms, "the mantra of 
the Real", and again India's cultural emphasis has been on trans- 
cendence of this world through the immanence of the ultimate 
word, aum, vak, or, most ineffably, the great silence. 

Rather than sharing in this Oriental transcendent idealism, 
the most important stream of Western literary tradition, at least 
in modern times, derives mystical experience from everyday sen- 
sations and thus glorifies and mystifies all the senses of the created 
world. Examples stretch from Proust's glorification of the intensely 
particularized taste and odor of a madeleine cookie to Melville's 
elusive White Whale, from the Three King's discovery of the 
godhead in a baby lying in an inn stable's manger in an out-of- 
the-way provincial town to Allen Ginsberg's transcendental vision 
while masturbating in a New York apartment. Furthermore, in 
modern Western poetics, verbal ambiguity can contribute to 
suggestive enrichment, while traditional Sanskrit esthetics finds 

114/iNDIAN literature ; 156 

ambiguity raises doubts about the desired poetic suggestion and 
sublime tone. This deep-seated combination in Western culture 
of intense interest in the everyday and a focus on metaphorical 
and pluralistic concreteness makes it difficult for Western readers 
and critics deeply to appreciate Indian poetry such as Tagore's 
or Aurobindo's or many others' when it aspires to be mystical. 
The difficulty is compounded by the way Indian critics customa- 
rily equate the best, most powerfully effective writing, Indian or 
otherwise, with mysticism. 

Given the long Indian history of priestly Brahmins spinning 
esthetic theories in support of their monopoly on religious insight 
and transcendental understanding, we might well expect their 
modern followers to do the same, even those who are merely 

Sanskritized-Brahminized academic critics. They as well as the 
more socially, or at least theoretically, rebellious writers in the 
bhakti tradition have continuously preached that the highest form 
of human feeling — an "esthesia" that is not necessarily esthetic 
or artistic — is anand, mystic bliss, the sense of union with the 
divine One, with the non-self as the Ultimate Self, oneness with 
the only Reality. That feeling or an awareness of its potential 
presence is supposedly induced from an appropriately fqcusse 
reading of sacred texts. Thus, surely it was to ise expected that 
such mystic significances should be found to infuse and valorize 
all the literary texts that later Indian scholars wished to acclaim. 
Yet when they extend this critical practice beyond the many w/i 
generally denominated as sacred and therefore, perhaps 


appropriately considered mystical, such criticism surely needs to 
be analyzed. 

As is often said, in Indian culture the secular and the sacred 
blend easily into each other. Paradoxically, the life one sees on 
the streets, the attitudes one meets in personal encounters, are 
eminently of this world, profoundly if not profanely materialistic, 
and so too are the multitudes of gods who can be identified with 
an individual murthy. It is the Brahmin Sankara philosophy lead- 
ing to Vedantic mysticism (and its accompanying estheticism) 
that is abstract, other-worldly, or, rather, denying of the reality, 
the real significance, of this world. Paradoxically, too, the politici- 
zation of Hindu-Muslim differences in recent times exemplifies 
not the traditional fusions of sacred and profane but the separation 
of the sacred from the profane. The modernistic secularization 
of religious practices comes from seeing them as only one (main) 
socially identifiable and identifying part of certain persons' lives, 
rather than as activities woven into the social and personal texture 
of almost everyone's daily life, it signifies a cultural weakening 
of religious beliefs and practices, since they are socially distinctive 
and thus susceptible to political manipulation. A more likely 
current expression of the traditional Indian conceptual and ex- 
periential blending of the secular and the sacred lies in the basic 
failure of the Indian state to protect and support all religious 
beliefs equally; unhappily, the legalistic means now being deploy- 
ed to symbolize equality again indicate a further separation of 
religion from life in order to politicize it. 

More productively for human happiness, the common 
Indian blending of sacred and secular can be readily observed 
in the frequent interpenetration of religious and erotic feelings 
and their imagery, noticeable in temple sculptures and bhakti 
poems. It appears as well as in the way ordinary .believers subli- 
minally enjoy (or at least stoically tolerate) their often burdensome 
daily labors, necessary chores and family obligations because 
these workaday activities are hallowed by the religio-philosophic 
notions of dharma, karma and moksha; leela, maya and non- 
attachment. So again it is not surprising that critics brought up 
close to traditional Indian culture should deem much of ostensibly 
secular literature to have sacred meanings or effects, and that a 

116/INDIAN literature : 156 

high state of religious ecstacy should be sought in the purported 
or reported experiences and literary expressions of all kinds of 
Indian writers. Indeed, the common readers' literary awareness 
is expected to include the potential for not just appreciating but 
experiencing an esthetic ecstacy that is at least vaguely religious 
and ultimately, at its sublirrie best, mystical. 

To question such a long established and widely spread belief 
system, especially from a Western perspective that is avowedly 
sceptical, may seem pointless, besides being rash. A Westerner 
would probably be disqualified as a literary critic prima facie 
should he dare challenge the mystical meanings traditionally 
attached to etstatic experiences represented in Indian literature. 
Usually such a Western non-believer would be considered funda- 
mentally ignorant of the very bases for literary judgement in the 
Indian critical context. A critic sceptical of mysticism might alter- 
natively be deemed ethnocentrically caught within the confines 
of Western conceptions of poetry, such as those pragmatic cogni- 
tive ones previously outlined. The sceptic's problem could then 
very likely be judged not merely a matter of ignorance, but also 
a disabling difference in attitude, and ultimately an innate inability 
to have the necessary feelings. There is a ready analogy in Western 
cultural discourse with those who are told, "If you don't dig jazz 
(or, more currently, rap) then you can't respond to Afro-American 
writing." Or more severely, "Man, you gotta have soul; ifyou ve 
got soul, you'll dig jazz (or whatever is the current shibboleth). 
There's no way to show you or help you see it; you either get 
it or you don't; and if you don't you just can't, surely won t, 
and never will." This type of argument is commonly offered on 
a variety of occasions when an in-group wishes to preserve its 
separate identity, a kind of sanctity, against invasive and presum 
ably destructive outsiders. 

Even well-meaning and positively motivated non-initiates, 
however, are excluded from joining the in-group as cognoscenti, 
unless and until they can claim to have had the prerequisite 
experiences. And, of course, their desire may be the greater, 
not the sole, part of their experience. In fact, many religion® 
doctrines accept that the mere desire to have faith (more rare y, 
to have a particular kind of experience in the faith, e.g., mys ic 


union with the divine) suffices as a sign of faith {or of that-fexpen- 
ence). It should be noted that religious doctrines make it easier 
to enter the common run of general belief and reserve the highest 
transports for special persons. In one very common historical 
scenario the gate-keepers to a religious cult (or culture) may 
subject those claiming faith to certain tests — of knowledge or of 
attitude or of feeling. With respect to a person's claiming know- 
ledge about the faith, critical decisions about meaning and facts 
can be based on generally agreed-on criteria and reasoned dis- 
cussion. With respect to a person's taking on the attitudes of a 
believer, the defenders of the faith face a more difficult task: they 
must determine the "authenticity" of a person's proffered stance 
of belief by detectable and definitive signs. (A citizens' review 
board testing or inquiring into a conscientious obj'ector's beliefs 
about war is a good example). With respect to certifying a per- 
son's feelings for the faith, the cult's controllers are at the mercy 
of confidence artists who can convincingly project "sincerity" 
and perhaps even worse, they may be confronted by would-be 
converts who are self-deceived by their intense desire to belong: 
they know they have or have had the required feeling. However, 
only the individual believer knows just how, and thus whether, 
he or she "really and truly and. sincerely" believes, if that is a 
matter of feeling rather than (or in addition to) adequate know- 
ledge or proper attitude. 

Notoriously we can report our feelings in verbal or gestural 
terms, but we cannot convey them directly, although literature, 
especially lyric poems, often attempts to do so. In fact, to under- 
stand a poem fully, most theories of literature have said, requires 
grasping the feelings conveyed along with, attached to, or part 
of the meanings, for literature is distinguished by its representation 
of elusive feelings. To give a generally acceptable verbal equiva- 
lent or sign or test for those feelings is an accepted way to demon- 
strate critically that one has understood them. It is not usually 
required that one experience a feeling in order to understand it, 
just as to understand a meaning, one does not have to mean it, 
that is, to believe it is true, or to adopt a particular stance or 
attitude toward that meaning. The only intention one is required 
to have toward a meaning in order to understand it is the intention 


to understand it. Presumably, the critical expression of that under- 
standing insofar as possible, uses some alternative terms shared 
by the critical community in common with the other, the so-called 
speaker. That speaker-person initially intending a meaning may 
also claim to know and be presenting a meaning that eludes 
common communication — ^for example, an innate ethnic insight 
or a transcendental mystical experience. Then an additional prob- 
lem of the listener-reader-critic trying to become a complete 
understander is to examine that claim, to see what is and what 
can be conveyed in the terms offered and in any other common 
terms available. At least, responsible critics attempt to do so, 
rather than simply to credit the claim because it is traditionally 
valued and/or not readily susceptible to analysis. 


From a rationalist perspective one may try to design ways 
of inquiring into a mystic's self-knowledge (and supposed self- 
realization) as well as the claims of those who have experienced 
the mystical in literature, but the continuing general problem of 
sure communication or communion with other minds frustrates 
these efforts, in another non-rationalist historical tradition, the 
definition of who has achieved understanding and thus member- 
ship in a cult depends upon supposed seers. It Is claimed that 
certain supremely sensitive minds can look into another mind 
and know enough about it to say infallibly what its feelings are, 
how it feels about what it feels or thinks it knows or has experi- 
enced. The Western philosopher, logician and mystic Ludwig 
Wittgenstein came to believe that such extraordinarily insightful 
people exist, but he knew better than to try to demonstrate or 
test those special human powers, which he humbly as well as 
quite accurately did not claim for himself. 

Given these limited options, it is clear that qnly one is suitable 
to a literary critic for convincing sceptics about the mystical mean- 
ings attached to certain kinds of ecstatic experiences presented 
or described in literature. One cannot aspire to the status of seer, 
nor, lacking indubitable seerdom, can an author's asserted and 
self-attested attitudes or even an author's powerfully imaginative 
representations of feelings be validated through literary criticism 
as really, truly and/or sincerely mystical. Still less is the mere 


asserted claim of a reader sufficient to convince another that 
something mystical is, or should be, at work in a full experiential 
understanding of a text. What will cope effectively in ordinary 
critical discourse with the claims of mysticism are unflagging 
efforts to explain a narrowly specialized cult experience as a 
distinctive instance of a more general cultural one: mystical trans- 
port is, after all, a particular kind of ecstasy. That is, a literary 
critic can properly call poems and novels and essays (not authors) 
mystical if those texts can be shown to produce /n a generally 
cultivated group of readers certain describable, definable experi- 
ences. Yet, if they are to be understood as mystical, these experi- 
ences must not be met elsewhere in the fullest cultivated experi- 
ence of other, non-mystical literary works. 

This final criterion of exclusiveness is crucial, for either the 
mystical is a distinctive trait of only certain pieces or passages of 
literjjture, or else the mystical is merely another name for anything 
meaningful in a literary sense. Most contemporary literary critics 
do not need to be convinced that literature achie 3 a peculiar 
kind of meaning (and not merely certain complexities of mean- 
ings) that is not discovered in non-literary work. At one time, the 
supposed science of semantics asserted (i) that connotations, 
suggestions or feelings could be accurately distinguished from 
denotations or definitive meanings essential to the operation of 
a communication and (ii) that understanding literary meanings 
in more than minimal communicative terms required increased 
susceptibility and attention to those connotations. This theory is 
not radically different from the Sanskrit literary esthetic that val- 
orizes dhvani wherein "The suggested sense blossoms, as it were, 
out of the primary denotation or secondary indication (not, it 
should be noted again, out of ambiguity, plurisignification, or a 
potentially confusing multiplicity of connotations, as in Western 
esthetics). The concept is based on the Vedantic idea of sphota, 
the manifestation of something inherent in the eternal '..." as 
Shailaja Karandikar explains in Nagendra's, A Dictionary of 
Sanskrit Poetics (B.R. Publishing, Delhi, 1987; 51.) However, it 
has more recently been demonstrated that works considered 
non-literary employ all the means, all the critically identifiable 
linguistic and formal resources, that literary works do (including 
so-called connotations). 

120/INDIAN literature : 156 

Still, literary critics must find something distinctive about 
literary expressions if they are not to condemn themselves to 
utter triviality in analyzing absolutely every utterance as literary. 
Thus, it is suggested that what distinguishes literature from other 
uses of language must be the common recognition (arguable, of 
course) that some peculiar i<ind(s) of meaning/feeling is/are 
achieved, though by general means that are not reserved to 
literature. Unless we want to call these literary kinds of mean- 
ing/feeling simply an unanalyzable mystery, the distinction of any 
verbal communication as having or inducing literary kinds of 
meanings/feelings would have to be achieved by some formal 
or contextual arrangements not experienced or at least not taken 

into account m writing or reading non-literature, and, of course, 
such kinds of arrangements can be analyzed. However, it is also 
theoretically possible that the special effect of what we agree to 
call literature is achieved only by distinctive attitudes in the 
responders themselves — e.g., of special alertness to certain kinds 
of linguistic arrangements, patterns, meaningful feelings, etc. In 
the latter case, again the alertness could be analyzed according 
to its objects: the types of arrangements that are perceived to be 
literary. This notion of what is literary need not reduce criticism 
to discovering literary conventions or to categorizing types, for 
criticism can still in such a scheme cultivate a specialized literary 
critical alertness to individual literary deviations from linguistic 
norms. In short, literary criticism can focus on the manifold 

JOHN OLIVER perry/121 

aspects of both generic and individual literary styles. 

Now, if the argument is made that, with respect to at least 
mysticism in literature, the proper critical alertness is of a unique, 
unanalyzable sort in the reader (in the subject, not its objects), 
then it should be realized that a frustrating paradox results: only 
a person who does not respond as a mystic to a particular literary 
work claiming to embody and/or offer mystical experience could 
be a proper critic of that work and experience. For only such a 
person could be sufficiently unbiased to determine by experience 
(as well as by both self and object analysis) whether or not a given 
literary work does produce or embody something mystical. If a 
critic has already experienced the mystical in a poem, she cannot 
consider objectively whether that experience can be occasioned 
by the text in question working its magic on other cultivated 

Of course, total objectivity is a will 'o the wisp, a chimera, 
but as an ideal, it is something worth approaching and remains 
a critical concept crucial to the notion of judgment based on 
observation. With respect to the purported mystical dimensions 
of a literary work, a critic cannot, however, adopt the usual 
strategy of setting aside her own intensely private experience of 
mystical union and attempting to assess whether the literary 
experience of an ordinary, but well-informed person would ap- 
proximate that mystic transport. This objection does not hinge 
on the claim that each person's mystic experience is by definition 
unique since it is of a relationship between that individual as that 
precise individual and the universal divine. Rather a critic who 
has experienced mystic transport while reading a particular text 
cannot authentically adopt the desired attitude of an unbiased 
non-responder precisely because the experience of mysticism 
must be understood to involve the person's whole being, just as 
it claims to do. Given that total involvement, no critical stance 
of non-involvement could be authentic. 

This does not mean, however, that every critic who has ever 
experienced mystic union with the divine is disqualified from 
determining whether that experience is occasioned by a particular 
text. Common sense suggests that only, or at least primarily, a 
person who has experienced the mystical will be qualified to 

122/INDIAN literature : 156 

recognize it in another situation — assuming, that is, that all mystic 
experience has some distinctive, definitive quality. Presumably 
among those supremely experienced critics, a rare few are willing 
to suspend their judgment concerning the mystical dimension 
claimed for or by a particular literary text. Furtherfnore and more 
importantly, such a critic must also somehow be able to withhold 
consent to having another mystic experience in the case presen- 
ted for judgment. It might be appropriately argued that in any 
truly mystical experience the intense presence of the divine over- 
whelms the individual and any will, self-control or capacity to 
withhold and withstand that experience. By this reasoning, even 
a person averse to or trying conscientiously to avoid experiencing 
mystic bliss while readirfg a work of literature (one not yet 
sanctioned as mystically powerful) would be forced to undergo 
a mystic experience during the process of fully understanding 
that text. 

Thus, the most powerful argument that a text not pre-judged 
as mystical is incontrovertibly mystical would be that a previously 
uninitiated, unpredisposed, but not attitudinally or intellectually 
incapacitated critic was forced while experiencing the text to 
experience an entirely new mystical dimension, one that initiates 
would also concede to be mystical. Why a full understanding of 
a text would necessarily include the mystical would then have 
to be that critic's, job to explain analytically to and for a broad 
audience, including readers both more and less sceptical than 
she. Having just undergone that experience, a critic should not 
find it impossible to analyze how this happened and could hap- 
pen for others, any more than with respect to more ordinary, non- 
mystical reading experiences. Again about the supposed mystical 
matters a critic needs to convince only those other potential 
readers who are neither intellectually nor attitudinally incapaci- 
tated for the proposed mystic experience, though they may or 
may not be temperamentally or culturally disposed to it. Thus, 
an ideologically committed mystic cannot aspire to produce use- 
ful criticism for those who are not similarly committed; nor can 
an ideologically committed non-mystic expect to find any effec- 
tive criticism of purportedly mystical texts. Criticism of mysticism 
in literature has to occur within a community of those able to 


accept the possibility of mystic experience in themselves, yet not 
certain that such an experience has occurred or can occur with 
respect either to the author or to the readers of a particular text 
in question. 

As it happens and might be predicted, again traditional 
Indian esthetics has pre-empted this argument for a relatively 
npn-responsive, non-committed critic by defining all proper cri- 
tics as sahridaya, so-called "fellow-hearts" with the poet-writer 
(the translation is Polanki Ramamoorthy's in his book of poems, 
Rangoli). Rather than accept the notion that understanding a 
poem requires only knowing whatever meanings (together with 
any and all of their attached feelings) are arguably conveyed, the 
Indian critical theory of "fellow-heartedness" demands a special- 
ly cultivated kind of person within the cultural community. The 
sahridaya is not merely a reader attitudinally sympathetic with 
the poet, but one more or less totally empathetic, that is, identified 
to the extent of being committed to the same beliefs, holding 
and especially feeling the same basic cultic system. (A similar 
Sanskritic concept is that of the rasika, a rare being innately 
responsive to rasa, the ultimately mystical blissful emotion of 
poetry). In short, the concept of "critic", meaning one who 
judges, is quite alien to this tradition, which valorizes feeling 
almost exclusively. 

Recently at an American university (University of Illinois at 
Champagne-Urbana) an Indian scholar, Makarand R. Paranjape, 
produced in 1984-85 for his doctoral dissertation a study of 
Mysticism in Indian English Poetry, later presumably corrected 
and then published in 1988 by B. R. — D.K. Delhi. 
Paranjape remarks in his preface that "a singular aspect of (this 
book's) orientation is its complete innocence of post-structuralist 
criticism." For that purposeful restraint, I would say, we should 
be quite grateful, since elaborate deconstructive critical parapher- 
nalia would be utterly inappropriate for both the purportedly 
mystical texts he has chosen and the largely Indian audience 
evidently intended. Paranjape reveals some confusion, however, 
about what deconstruction might try to do, claiming that "it is 
not difficult to interface post-structuralist theories with mysti- 

124/iNDIAN literature ; 156 

cism," even though, by its dismantling of apparent dualities and 
of "the binary, discursive or dialectical faculty of the mind, other- 
wise enshrined as Logos in Western philosophical traditions" 
(precisely what deconstruction also dismantles), "mysticism saves 
itself from the need to be deconstructed — unless, of course it is 
deliberately misread for ideological purposes." (iii) 

This theoretical confusion turns out to be practically irrelev- 
ant, however, to Paranjape's pursuit of his own project: "i desired 
to keep the book rooted in what I considered an essentially 
'Indian' tradition and viewpoint."{iii) This is a commendable goal, 
but what it seems to have meant in practice is that both this critic 
and his audience must be committed to that Indian tradition 
requiring one be a sahridaya in order properly to understand 
and appreciate poetry. As usual among Indian critics, mysticism 
is assumed once more to be not only the highest aim of literature 
but an incontrovertible and, in effect, unanalyzable quality of 
any text (or reader's experience) that lays claim to it. Most cru- 
cially and most often, mysticism is defined as a quality of the 
writers' lives, stemming from a feeling they experienced of union 
with the divine. In consequence, as someone else's feeling, it is, 
of course, not possible to analyze or invalidate. 

Even the most sceptical person should agree that if someone 
claims a mystical experience, only he or she has sufficient access 
to it to know it for what it is (or is not). At the same time even 
the most believing person should expect that a critical examina- 
tion of the transcendent claims' of mysticism in literature, if it is 
attempted at all, requires more than assertion, quotation and 
descriptive paraphrase. Short of totally replicating a particular 
mystic experience in literature, a responsible criticism needs to 
examine the special dimensions and qualities of meaning/feeling 
of that supposed mystic experience, and such an examination 
involves analyzing closely the particular poetic traits more or less 
separately and making analogies with less transcendentally ambi- 
tious poems and writings as well as with those conventionally 
regarded as mystical. 

Apparently neither Paranjape nor his dissertation advisors 
saw the need for such a procedure. Drawing on the obviously 
committed methodology of R.D. Ranade's Pathway to- God in 


Hindi Literature (1 959), Paranjape sets up "a unity with a fourfold 
division consisting of:'' 

1 . The (poet's) mystical experience itself. 

2. The other goals of poet's mysticism in addition to the 
mystical experience. 

3. The way to these goals. 

4. The incentives to spiritual life according to the writer. (1 2) 

Of the last division Paranjape says: "This section allows for 

an easier access to the subject for those who are not spiritually 
inclined. "(13) But that promise is not fulfilled, since the sup- 
posedly extrinsic incentives of mysticism (beyond the immediately 
self-justifying "apprehension of the nature of reality") remain 
exhortations to "live like a stump" (43) and to avoid misery, loss, 
loneliness or, the positive corollary, to enjoy liberation from 
wordly cares and suffering — ^that is, the non-mystical apprehen- 
sion of this poetry presupposes accepting clearly mystical concep- 

The presentation of each writer in this book is thus restricted 
to the recitation of the four cited thematic features of mysticism. 
Occasionally Paranjape mentions matters of poetic form. In his 
conclusion he implies that diction is a major critical issue (as 
surely any reader of Aurobindo's archaic Miltonisms will agree), 
yet an issue he says cannot here be examined, either practically 
or theoretically. He also compiles at the end categories and lists 
of common images (215-222) and throughout makes approving 
references to obvious features of rhyme and meter (e.g., 172). 
Nevertheless, one general point he repeats is that almost all the 
mystic poets rely on syntax, order, repetition, tone and prose 
rhythms, though again no close analysis of any of these features 
is attempted. Rather the literary impact of mysticism is assumed 
in practice to arise directly and magically from the sheer thematic 
statements by the poet, repeated or paraphrased by the critic, 
about "the mystical experience itself," "other goals", "the way," 
and "incentives to spiritual life." And anyway, he tritely con- 
cludes, "mysticism will always remain a mystery ..." (223) 

To some extent Paranjape's unquestioning support for the 
claims of mysticism in Indian English literature derives from the 
extreme flexibility he allows the term: "Mysticism is not a settled 

126/INDIAN literature : 156 

position ..." (iii) More reprehensibly it derives from a refusal to 
present "the rationale for mysticism" except "as each writer sees 
it," even though "its justification rriay be of interest to those who 
are sceptical of the value of self-realization. "(1 2) That is, Paran- 
jape seems to recognize the need to consider a mixed audience 
for his criticism and thus a mixed group of readers for his chosen 
texts. They will include those who are not already committed to 
mysticism as "self-realization" (where the self to be recognized 
and actualized is, of course, that which is — or feels or claims to 
be — at one with the infinite, or Divine Self). Not being pre-com- 
mitted to such feelings in their own lives, such readers need 
careful direction and instruction in order to see and feel anything 
mystical in literature. Yet no such critical treatment is given to 
this material; instead, it is accorded a sacred status as the product 
of saintly lives. And even there, "The state of being a mystic 
appears to be a fluid rather than a rigid state ... It is, thus, 
practically impossible to distinguish mystics from non-mystics 
empirically, and to design a typology classifying different varieties 
of mystics." (2) 

Paranjape does argue or explain that having a mystical 
experience, if it is complete, necessarily "affects a total, radical, 
permanent change in the practitioner's consciousness, not if con- 
fusion and ignorance return afterwards." (2) Thus it would follow 
that one critical test for the mystical in literature is a relentless 
investigation both of the author's claims for one or more mystic 
experiences and of his/her subsequent life, with an eye to its 
being sanctified in some acceptable sense. Twice (44 & 46) in 
discussing Sri Ananda Acharya, who lived most of his saintly life 
in Norway,' Paranjape asserts that "his poetry gains credence 
and authority from his life. In the final analysis, it is as the record 
and chronicle of a unique and noble life that his poetry is impor- 
tant." (46, emphasis added). A similar critical argument, if it can 
be so termed, is made for other mystics whose original poems 
in Indian English' have "really little new to say" (46) and little too 
of "Beauty or aesthetic delight." Again Paranjape takes refuge 
in the anti-critical concept that "there can be no hierarchy among 
self-realized souls because all are, so to speak, sparks of the one 
divine flame ... (H)ow does the size (of the poetic achievement) 


matter if the object is to cross over." (46-47) 

Quite obviously the suggested kind oft)iographical, autobio- 
graphical and ultimately hagiographical procedure is especially 
impractical with respect to mystics as well as of dubious v^lue 
for literary criticism. There is, however, always the other direction 
to pursue in these circumstances: not what can be known about 
the experience of the writer as a bona fide mystic; rather, what 
can be known or shown about a critic's experience of the text 
and the possibility that it can be replicated by a reasonably 
well-disposed reader. Looking in this direction Paranjape says, 
"The most crucial test is, of course, efficacy. Does the mysticism 
really work? Does it help one to lead a better life? Does it provide 
relief here and now? Does it remove one's doubts? All these ques- 
tions are a matter of personal experience ..." The last phrase 
closes off a general or public answer: "The subjective approach, 
though verifiable only individually, is preferable. Each one has 
to experience the mystic for himself or herself." (3) 

Nevertheless, after re-asserting that "the proof of mysticism 
is in experiencing it", Paranjape states, "ultimately, all approa- 
ches to mysticism, including a little mental gymnastics, have their 
place." (3) The question is, what place for which of several (all?) 
usable approaches? Does Paranjape claim and hope to convince 
anyone that (a) he has had mystic experiences in reading these 
texts (with a consequent sanctification of the rest of his life); 
and/or (b) any reader with an open soul, so to speak, can come 
to/learn to experience/respond to the mystical in these texts also; 
or (c) the proof of mysticism, like that of saintliness in Roman 
Catholic doctrine, is that other people's lives are changed miracu- 
lously? The last option requires not literary criticism but an investi- 
gation into religious history or, more likely, social psychology. 
Perhaps, given some humility about (a), he intends with (b) to 
describe a less than total experience of/response to the mystical 
in literature, one that he presumably has had and that can be 
repeated by similarly ordinary mortals (without any guaranteed 
sanctifying consequences). His chapter on Puran Singh ends: 
"Fortunately, his poetry, soaked through and through as it is with 
the potent dye of Love, affords us some glimpses into these 

128/INDIAN literature ; 156 

regions of ecstacy and bliss, transporting us to them, be it for 
just a trice." (1 70) 

A tactic he does not pursue would have found some ready 
support in the wider non-committed literary community: he could 
have treated the various mystic experiences described by authors 
and/or critical readers as examples of mere ecstacy or "alternate 
states of consciousness." He would not need then to rest his 
critical claims either on the existence of a Divine Self, super 
Reality, transcendent One or on poets' claims of union with it. 
Long after the American pragmatist philosopher William James 
analyzed The Varieties of Religious Experience (1 902) taking a 
psychological approach, a bevy of researchers has examined the 
"neurology" (James's own word) of experiences self-defined as 

other worldly, religious, mystical. Without question many diffe- 
rent people have reported varieties of these experiences with a 
plausible and describable consistency. A sub-set of these states 
of mind alternative to those of ordinary awakeness or dreaming 
is the researched state of "near-death experiences"; people from 
quite different cultures have described their sense of falling 
through a dark tunnel toward a blinding light and an ultimate 
feeling of peace, with reluctance to return to ordinary existence 
ridden with pain and anxiety. The interpretation of those experi- 
ences as of some actual after-life does not follow from the reco- 
gnition, the critical knowledge, thafcertain people, after being 
near death, have knowledgeable memory of another state of 
mind from their usual ones. Another subset of "alternate states 


of mind" is that produced by certain psychotropic drugs, the 
most famous being LSD, the experience of which led Nissim 
Ezekiel (one of the "minor" Indian English mystic poets treated 
in Paranjape's book) to revamp his previously rationalistic stoi- 
cism. Again it is indubitable that certain definitively describable 
patterns of mental and perceptual experience occur under the 
influence of LSD, or whatever other psychotropic drug, or indeed 
under the influence of probes, electrical and otherwise, to certain 
areas of the brain. No scepticism about mysticism, to repeat, is 
able to invalidate these and other experiences. What a sceptic 
wants, however, is some explanation of them which does not 
rely upon the interpretations given by the^xperiencers themselves 
or by someone with a commitment to a particular ideology, 
religion or super-rational outlook. 

Paranjape notes that "This state, which involves a total trans- 
formation of consciousness, cannot be fully captured in words, 
but the mystic's description of it is highly suggestive and instruc- 
tive." (12) Accepting that the highly instructive quality does not 
pertain solely to the moral or religious managing of the readers 
lives (though that may also occur), we may ask how informative 
the mystic's descriptions of his state are for understanding (not 
totally identifying with or replicating) the state itself. Unfortu- 
nately, given the paucity of poetic means — or Paranjape wishes 
to say the simplicity in. their writings ("neither naive or unsophis- 
ticated nor unduly abstruse nor obscure," a property derived 
again from their own self-realized lives, 3) — the assertions of an 
infinite difference in the experience of self-realization and in its 
rendering in poetry do not themselves achieve self-realization. 
Paranjape does not stint from frequent quotation of selected 
examples, presumably the most effective passages, but what 
reader who is not already committed will be convinced about 
mysticism in literature or in life by these pale abstractions, excited 
exclamations and stereotypical symbols? The following is called 
a "seminal poem" in Sri Ananda Acharya's canon (it is not a 

We are two. 

I know not Thee; it is my joyous destiny 

ever to yearn for Thee 

130/iNDIAN literature : 156 

amidst the emptiness of this summer-]?arren desert. 

Oft are the heavens bereft of their light, 

the sands denuded of their warmth; 

then dost Thou draw nearer to memory's grove 

of dreams within my heart, 

1 die. 

We are one 

I know not myself; Thou smilest 

as the evening glow upon the western hills, 

and the dews are Thy tears on the darkening sands. 

This breath of joy is Thee, 

these heart-beats throbbing in the darkness 

are Thine (sic) eternal longings. 

Praise becomes dumb, 

as Love and Silence whisper the hymn: "I am" 

(Snow Birds 254) 

Paranjape then offers a single paragraph of paraphrase: 

The poem is divided into two parts; the first deals with the 
poet as he was before the mystical experience, and the second 
with what happened after the merger. "I" is the poet and "Thee" 
is, presumably God, the over-Self, or everything that is the non-ego. 

In the first section there is an awareness of separateness, while in 
the second, the poet is neither separate nor identical; but his state 
is truly beyond words because it is unknown even to himself. After 
the transforming experience, there is no longer any separateness, 
but ihe poet retains the terminology of duality, continuing to use 
"I" and "Thee." Howeverthetwoarenow very closely intertwined: 

"I" is the breath of joy of "Thee", and "I’s" heartbeats are "Thee's" 
longings. The state is one of duality in unity, something that defies 
rational comprehension. The poem ends with cessation of speech 
and reaffirmation of the consciousness that transcends categories: 
everything fades away except the throb of pure, unconditioned 
awareness signified in the phrase, "I am." (22-23). 

The discussion then immediately moves on to "other poems 
(which) also embrace similar subject matter albeit in a more 
symbolic and elliptical manner." This kind of dead-pan para- 
phrase admits no question about either the experience suppose- 
dly rendered nor the poetic means employed, nor, of course, its 
own critical means, virtual restatement. One such example of 
mystical poetry examined in this irresponsible way would suffice 


to make all the point that can thus be made about the basic 
meaning and experience that all mystic poems attempt to convey: 
they are beyond "rational comprehension." 

If the peculiar life-changing efficacy claimed for these sup- 
posed mystic poems is not achieved by any special suggestiveness 
of form or language, perhaps, it is the "fervor" of the writer that 
is to work on us. For Paranjape evades analysis repeatedly by 
the strategy of pointing to the ineffable goal; 

Much time could be spent trying to explain and decipher this sym- 
bolism (of Sri Ananda Acharya's poems), except that it does not 
appear to be very important in itself; most of these poems end, as 
noted earlier, with the same exhortation: seek nirvana. (43) Yet 
repeated samplings of poetry provided throughout the volume fail 

to achieve fervor as their poetic tone, though equally repeatedly 
the poets and their supposed critic assert that such a feeling is being 
experienced and/or represented. The common reader, therefore, 
is left to his own devices to turn statements about mystic experiences 
into poems that convey them or at least convey a full understanding 
of them. 

Probably it is unfair to castigate Paranjape for not doing what 
he never attempted to do. For that reason questioning his selec- 
tion of poets in almost total disregard of literary values is pointless. 
Similarly carping would be to ask why self-realization only of 
one's ignorance, limitedness and temporality, as in Jayanta 
Mahapatra's poetry (rather than realizing also, more optimistically 

132/INDIAN literature : 156 

and idealistically, one's supposed illimited universal Soul) should 
not also be a mystic experience, especially if that experience of 
insight into self leads also to a kind of personal peace and accep- 
tance of what is. Only occasionally did Paranjape recognize the 
need to meet sceptical readers on their own grounds and bring 
them into contact with not just mystic lore, but the full meaning 
of mysticism embodied in poetry. By defining mysticism as self- 
realization, "an internal rather than an external process," Paran- 
jape says that "even an atheist can be interested in mysticism as 
long as he or she agrees that he or she exists." (1 4) But that claim 
is patently fallacious, unless "interested" means merely curious 
about the extravagant claims mysticism makes. There has never 
been any doubt about the irrationality of mysticism, and Paran- 

jape has amassed a considerable array of examples from an area, 
n ian English poetry, where it had not been previously docu- 
mented atsuch length. As a bibliographical and brief biographical 
guide his work is certainly useful, it is disappointing, however, 
t at it did not attempt to achieve more, to be more deeply analy- 
tical rather than merely to present brief biographies followed by 

thematic paraphrases and summaries according to his "four-fold 

Useful to sceptic readers, and to a broadened understanding 
of traditional Indian culture, would be a close analysis of the 
jDoetic rneans these writers employ to convey their ecstasy, a state 
they claim to be a mystic union with the divine that we should 
a seek. One might, for instance, try to evaluate the literary aims 


of different mystics in more common critical terms: is the poem 
largely a private lyrical self-expression or is it designed for inspi- 
ration or as exhortation? Is it actually (rather than merely rhetori- 
cally or figuratively) addressed to a god? If so, what sort of “per- 
sona" does that audience have? How does it differ from the 
persona of the speaker, considering that the two are supposedly 
one? In what manner is the poem addressed, as prayer or suppli- 
cation, in thankful gratitude? Where does the poet-speaker make 
concessions or gestures toward an ordinary reader? Toward an 
already committed devotee/believer? Other aspects of tone also 
seem central to fhe whole endeavour and are well worth question- 
ing. With respect and sympathetic appreciation for various 
degrees and qualities of ecstacy or mystic fervor, one could 
helpfully ask how are these indicated, whether they are presented 
as if to induce a similar state in the reader in the process of 
reading itself or as if to entice (Paranjape's word, 223) the reader 
to his or her own experiments with seekmg mystic transport? 
How much awareness is there, especially in the more modern 
exemplars, of a potentially sceptical audience, or of scepticism 
within their own consciousness? 

Beyond matters of tone, a variety of other types of analysis 
would be useful and supportive, again especially if the analysis 
is done by a tradition-oriented Indian critic well-trained not only 
in contemporary critical theory and analytical practice but also 
in modern poetry outside India. Since many mystic poems involve 
a journey or quest, critical forays into the implicit or explicit linear 
narrative structures (as more or less effective metaphors of the 
instantaneous or the timeless) would be illuminating: Does the 
narrative have tension, uncertainty? How does it close? Is it cyc- 
lical, spiral? One question previously suggested is, how effective, 
on what kinds of readers and in what ways, is the frequent 
reliance of these mystics upon an Indian English that is archaic, 
Miltonic, semi-biblical in diction and syntax, inverted word order 
and other poeticisms? What older, elsewhere outmoded, conven- 
tions of poetry and of cultural symbolism are adhered to by these 
poets, and how does that enhance their sense of being traditional) 
though writing in an oft-supposed “alien tongue"? How much 
crossing over is evident, and with what effect, from Indian to 

134/INDIAN literature ; 156 

Western cultural and literary and linguistic conventions? Since 
most of the mystic poets used their mother tongue for other wri- 
tings, certainly for oral communications, what significance can 
be adduced for their choice of Indian English, in what circum- 
stances and for what apparent purposes? 

Even the biographical emphasis attendant on the criticism 
of mystic-experience poetry could be not so much questioned 
or deconstructed as developed from a more sophisticated 
psychological and multicultural perspective. And then a whole 
world of comparative analysis — both within Indian traditions and 
with closely parallel Western practitioners — could be useful if it 
went beyond mere thematics and the compilation of parallel 
images. That is, bringing the texts of two or more poets into 

juxtaposition could be a mutually interpretive enterprise and cast 
new light on, provide insight Into, the presentation of highly 
ecstatic states of mind in Indian poetry. What is certainly not 
needed, however, is another in the long train of Indian critical 
works linking mysticism inexorably and ineffably with literature, 
a ritualistic mode of criticism illuminating only to those already 
in a state of ecstacy. 

Literaiy Criticism 



T he Punjab has been in the throes of a suicidal conflict for the 
last ten years. Many gods have failed, jnany temples have 
fallen. Many a time it was on the brink of an abysmal precipice, 
many a time it had a hairbreadth escape from catastrophic con- 
flagration. Many a time the people of the Punjab had sleepless 
nights. How long could they escape the diabolic fate? There 
came the Operation Bluestar! And then on the heels of it Prime 
Minister Indira Gandhi's gruesome assassination followed by the 
brutal killings of the members ofthe Sikh community in the Capital 
Delhi and several other towns in the country. 

Punjabi writers started giving vent to their pent up emotions 
at the virtual imposition of army rule after Operation Bluestar, 
as never before. Some ofthe most grim and heart-rending poetry 
was written on the theme. Even the holocaust of the Partition 
did not agitate and inspire the creative writer the way the storming 
ofthe Golden Temple had done. 

There were indignation and sorrow in Harbhajan Singh's 
words when he described the attack on the Akal Takht in his 
poem entitled "Ki Faujan DaMaan" (Forces Need Not Be Vain): 

Wherefrom have the forces come? 

From where did they bring the poison 
And wherefrom all the tyranny? 

Which serpent has emitted a hiss 
Blowing the barricades down? 

136/INDIAN literature : 156 

The sacred tank is defiled 
And the marble stones are afire. 

Scattering fistfuls of venom 
Wherefrom have the forces come? 

(August 1984) 

In a tender piece by Hamdard Nasushehrvi, an oid mother 
advises her son gone abroad not to return home to the Punjab 
of today: 

Even the illiterate these days 

Must listen to the news before their morning cup 

And then there is quiet all around 

The tea gets cold 

In this jungle of silence 

Words hit like bullets 

And arguments like gunshots. 

Don't you come for the present 
1 know you miss your home 
I know you long to be back 
You must not come for the present. 

(August 1984) 

Gul Chauhan In Lo,. a Punjabi monthly brought out from 

If you must ask 

Let me tell you 

The story of the Holy City 

And the plight of the devout. 

Have you ever seen someone torn from his tradition? 

Have you ever heard tanks rolling over dreams? 

Have you ever seen an innocent child stand before a loaded gun 
And then collapse in his own pool of blood with dignity 
On the astro-turf of dead bodies on the marble? 

If you haven't seen this. 

If you haven't heard of this. 

Then you would never understand 
How agonising and painful the happening was 
And how soiled is the colour of the smoke 
Spiralling out of a helpless poem. 

(August 1984) 

In yet another poem entitled "Na Marne Jogi Ni jene Jogi" 

K.s. ducgal/137 

(Neither Dead Nor Alive), it is maintained that it is love and 
amity, brotherhood and good neighbourliness that have been a 
casualty in the Operation Bluestar: 

How long will this firing continue? 

1 am already battered. 

Torn to bits. 

Some say. 

It's the Sikh spirit. 

Others believe it's the Punjabi identity 
Shattered and done to death. 

I am amity, 

Like a burnt-out log 

I sit beside the sepulchre of satya and ahimsa 
Neither dead nor alive! 

(Duggal August 1984) 

Looking back at this grim scenario of utter alienation of a 
people, the calamitous assassination of Indira Gandhi appears 
to be a sequence of the Greek tragedy, as it were. 

Indira Gandhi's assassination at the hands of her own Sikh 
security staff led to widespread killings of the Sikhs and destruction 
of their property in the Capital and other parts of the country.- It 
seemed for a moment that the edifice of secular India had miser- 
ably crumbled. There were unmistakable pointers to a premedi- 
tated, diabolical design to humiliate a community and teach it a 
lesson. An attempt was made to mutilate the ego of a heroic 

A great deal was written on the disturbances that followed 
Mrs Gandhi's assassination. Poems, short stories, plays and repor- 
tages were attempted depicting the atrocities and indignites 
inflicted on a community with a glorious tradition of great sac- 
rifices and unparalleled heroism in the cause of the nation. More 
than the poets, fiction writers took greater notice of this tragic 
episode in recent history. 

In a short story entitled "Band Band Kataun Wale" (Those 
''Who Would Have Mincemeat Made of Them) a young Sikh 
fearing that he would come to harm at the hands of the rioters 
has his hair trimmed. But his sweetheart, a Hindu girl, would 
have none of it. 'I gave my heart to a Sikh,' says she, 'those who 

138/lNDlAN LITERATURE : 156 

would rather die than flinch from their faith.' In another short 
story called 'Punjabi Character' a Hindu neighbour originally 
from the West Punjab saves a Sikh family at grave risk to his 
person and property when surrounded by a murderous mob of 

The euphoria following the Rajiv-Longowal pact was too 
short-lived to find its echoes in creative writing. Doomed to pre- 
mature death, it created a stalemate and the resultant frustration 
that has found expression in ugly militant activity. The unending 
killing spree of innocent men, women and children day after 
day, week after week, month after month has made the writer 
in the Punjab feel small. He is utterly helpless. 

Ajeet Cour, Prem Parkash and War-yarn Singh Sandhu are 
among several Punjabi writers who have written highly perceptive 
short stories giving vent to the agony which afflicts the writer 
today. This is how Ajeet opens her short story entitled 'Na Maro' 
(Kill Not). 

The darkness outside was thick and opaque. Only the howling 
of dogs ripped across the dark shroud of the night. 

I was unable to sleep. 

Ever since my brother Kewal was murdered, sleep had eluded 
both of us — me and my mother, who was numb with grief. But we 
both pretended that we were sleeping, so that the other should 
keep her eyes closed. Sleep sometimes just saunters into closed ■ 
eyes, they say. 

They think my brother was killed by extremists. I have no idea. 

He hadn't hurt any body. Why should' anyone kill him? 

But the murderers could be anyone. Extremists, or anybody 
else. How long does it take to kill a human being anyway? 

It takes.months in the mother's womb to make a human form. 

It takes years to then bring him up. The longest any living being 
takes to grow is the human child. And then, just one metal bullet! 

In a fraction of a second, everything is over. Like a ftill-blown 
balloon pierced with the tip of a pin. 

The story mirrors the Punjab's agony the way only a skilled 
craftsperson of Ajeet's stature could do. It reflects the torture of 
a Punjabi sou! in concrete terms. They hate killing and yet they 
must kill. The militant is the murderer and yet he is a lover, a 
brother — no enemy. This is the story of a young sister whose 

K.s. ducgal/1 39 

brother has been shot by the militants and as it happens one of 
the gang who shot her brother dead is found ‘hiding in their house 
with a bullet wound in his leg. The young Punjabi girl must nurse 
him. She does it day and night. 

The Government is waiting for the position of strength before 
it starts negotiations and the militants, in the meanwhile, are 
mounting their graph of killings relentlessly. Their tally includes 
students of literature like Vishwa Nath Tewari, progressive poets 
like Pash, promising journalists like Sumeet Singh of Preet'Lari, 
a leading Punjabi monthly magazine and RavinderRavi, Secretary 
General of the Writers' Union. 

Who can condone this indiscriminate slaughter? The creative 
writers' community in the Punjab is bewildered. The grim spec- 
tacle of senseless killings seems to have made them forget that 
Chandigarh has not been transferred to the Punjab in spite of the 
Centre holding out hopes repeatedly. They seem to be no more 
bothered about the river-water dispute. The maldistribution of 
the linguistic areas at the time of the carving of the Punjabi Suba 
is hardly ever mentioned. They seem to have rearranged their 
priorities. They must first fight the menace of terrorism. The killing 
of innocent men, women and children must stop. The Hindu-Sikh 
amity which is the bedrock of Punjabiat must be maintained. 

Surjit Patar, a leading poet of the younger generation, 
reminds his readers that they lost Waris Shah, the Muslim bard 
who gave us the immortal romance of Heer-Ranjha, when the 
country was partitioned. Are we going to lose Shiv Kumar Bataivi, 
the Hindu lyricist who has captured the hearts of young and old 
with his enchanting Punjabi love songs? 

It was Waris who was lost to us yesterday; 

Is it Shiv Kumar's turn now? 

Similarly Swarjbir, a young intellectual taken to writing mean- 
ingful verse, bemoans the lot of Amritsar, the town founded by 
Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru, as the Mecca of the devout, 
torn with inner conflicts and withering away amidst communal 

Amritsar, where are your hope-laden moms 

140/INDIAN literature : 156 

That informed the heart of its yearnings? 

Amritsar, where are your peace-loving pigeons? 

Amritsar, where are your eyes, 

I wish to see if tears lurk in them? 

Amritsar, which religion professes extremism? 

What faith do you subscribe to? 

Amritsar, why are you being decimated bit by bit? 

Amritsar, how is it that my words 
Decline to go into the mould of poetry? 

They seem to doubt their own connotation. 

The words have left me all alone. 

Which jungle are they going to? 

Amritsar, do you listen what is being announced? 

No one may move out of his house. 

Birds must not sing in their nests. 

Every maina must walk with hands lifted up. 

Skipping is alien to the times. 

Deaths must not be mourned but counted. 

Eyes must not see. 

We must build citadels of suspicion ... 

(Amritsar — an extract) 

The political instability, communal alienation and religious 
fundamentalism seem to torture the soul of the younger genera- 
tion of Punjabi poets today, as nothing else does. May be they, 
took the cue from Amrita Pritam when she said : 

May God help this household 
Where Ranjha used to dwell 
One hears the footsteps of Kheras. 

Despite the shadow of terror with 1 0-20 killings a day, the 
countryside of the Punjab is as peaceful as the towns humming 
with activity. Visiting the Punjab seems to belie stories figuring 
in the Press. Mohanjit, a more committed protagonist of his 
group, articulates this love-hate complex in these words; 

I was born here 
I was brought up here 
1 am the glory of this soil 
And also its dirge. 

The agony that the people of the Punjab have suffered for 
these long years, whether it was pulling members of one com- 

K.S. duggal/141 

munity out of buses and doing them to death or spraying bullets 
indiscriminately in streets or mowing down innocent men, 
women and children, whether it was Operation Bluestar or the 
1 984 frenzy of Sikh baiting consequent upon Indira Gandhi's 
assassination, it has left the sensitive soul of the young Punjabi 
poet seared. It finds its expression in many voices and at various 

Manjit Tiwana, a Sahitya Akademi award-winner, is bewil- 

what times are these 

Sitting on the threshold of it 

We ask the whereabouts of our home? 

Halvarvi is more scared. In this poem entitled 'Parbat' 
(Mountain) he says: 

There is emptiness on the peaks. 

We may get lost. 

Let's return to the warmth of our homes. 

Minder articulates the dilemma of millions of his fellow Pun- 
jabis who are witness to heartless killings by misled militants as 
also of the security forces engaged in fake and not-so-fake 
encounters in pursuance of the diabolic strategy of 'bullet for 
bullet', and do not know whom to blame; 

I had a blanket on my shoulders 
And a flute in my hand, 

1 went nowhere, nor did I sleep; 

Who has handed over this gun 
And left a dead body in my arms? 

jaswant Deed, the author of Bache Ton Dardi Kavita (Verse 
Fearing the Child), uses the child as a symbol for the innocent, 
peaceful and God-fearing Punjabi with dreams in his eyes: 

what song they sing in the town 
That I fear 

My child may be disturbed in his sleep! 

142/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 156 

The younger generation Punjabi poet delves into darkness, 
looks for chaotic order, tries to integrate form and content, makes 
his poetry correspond to the breath and pulse and the movement 
of his mind. He has a heretical distrust of language. Jaswant Deed 

1 detest the word Shanti, 

It remains metamorphosed on paper; 

And there is conflict prevailing all around. 

Having seen the miserable performance of their politicians 
and the Establishment refusing to shake off the British-groomed 
tradition of commitment only to the chair, the poet in jagtar 
cautions the reader: 

When I am no more, friends! 

You can be a boat. 

You can also be a spinning-wheel, 

You may be a multi-coloured seat, 

Even a rocker. 

But don't you ever be a chair. 

Another feature of this group of Punjabi poets is the over- 
whelming participation of women writers in it. Numerically and 
also, perhaps, qualitatively they seem to outdo their male coun- 
terparts. More important among them are: Manjit Tiwana, Pa! 
Kaur, Surjit Kalsi, Nirupama Dutt, Gagan Gill, Ka Na Singh, Amar 
jyoti, Kamal Ikarsi and Pritam Sandhu. They view man-woman 
relationship in a more liberal form. The woman-poet of the earlier 
generation never felt complete without man. This is sustained no 
more. Manjit Tiwana tries to give a new meaning to the status 
of woman in our society. The woman in her verse begs for no 
sympathy, nor does she ask for equality. She believes that woman 
is woman and man is man; woman is different from man but in 
no way inferior. She has demonstrated the glory of woman in 
her long poem entitled Savitri, published in book-form. Amar 
jyoti has called her collection of poems Kaun Buddha Si? (Who 
was Buddha?): 

Whose tale it is 

It's left for you to decide; 

K.S. duggal/143 

Whether of Yashodhara or Siddhartha 
Who repaired to the peace of the jungle 
Leaving Yashodhara behind 
To bring up Rahul 
Congruent with the royal 
Customs and traditions 

V>/ho made the glittering glass-house of her life a ruin 
Behind the portals of a palace, 

Where her sight turned into an unending path 
Waiting for Siddhartha 

And when he returned from the quiet of the Peaceful abode 
As Buddha the wise. 

Who was enlightened, 

Siddhartha or Yashodhara? 

They are totally secular in outlook. They equal Godhead 
with aesthetic sensibility which is the source of their poetry. Their 
endeavour is to arrive at the outside by moving inward. They 
tear down the walls of.high culture. Creativity for them is liberation 
of the imagination. 



T OLSTOY'S great novels, which have won universal acclaim 
as unsurpassed masterpieces of realistic fiction, have been 
for that very reason an inexhaustible source for great criticism 
too. While the individual works of Tolstoy have inspired critical 
studies of invaluable merit, they have also been the source mate- 
rial for profound inquiries towards a sustained theory of Realism. 
Among the many who have made significant contribution in this 
direction is V.l. Lenin who, through the six pieces he wrote on 
Tolstoy between 1908 and 1911, provided certain basic insights 
into the character of Tolstoy's work and initiated a serious discus- 
sion of Realism Itself along lines already suggested by Marx and 
Engels. Lenin's essays do not form what we usually call literary 
discourse, rather they read like politico-sociological treatises and 
are motivated primarily by a political perspective. However, they 
are the starting point for a whole series of theoretical exercises 
on the art of realistic fiction and have produced/influenced not 
only individual critics but even schools of criticism based bn the 
complex meanings emanating frbm them. The major questions 

p.K. rajan/145 

raised by Lenin in his essays and further developed by theorists 
like Georg Lukacs and Pierre Macherey have become points of 
discussion in Indian critical circles, too, but it is doubtful whether 
they have helped us develop, in any meaningful way, a critical 
theory of Realism in our own literatures and produce profound 
critical evaluations of our own novelists. It seems to me that the 
Indian critical scene of fiction, by and large, remains sparsely 
productive, if not anaemic; and this is a situation which needs 
to be rectified at the earliest. 

1 should make it clear at this point that it is not my intention 
to argue that any significant criticism of realistic fiction has to 
follow the norms set by Lenin and the writers who take the cue 
from him. But I have no doubt that critical enterprises on Realism 
any day have to necessarily reckon with some of the basic issues 
raised by Lenin and the other writers. Take for example the ques- 
tion of the subjective and the objective vis-a-vis the author in the 
study of his fictional work. Describing Tolstoy as "the mirror of 
the Russian Revolution" of 1905, Lenin points out that Tolstoy's 
fiction reveals a contradiction between the subjectively held views 
of the writer and the objective painting of reality. He sees the 
contradictions in Tolstoy's personal views and the contradictions 
in the historical reality and attempts to discover the dialectical 
relationship between the two as manifest in the literary work: 

The contradictions in Tolstoy's views are not contradictions inherent 
in his personal views alone, but are a reflection of the extremely 
complex, contradictory conditions, social influences and historical 
traditions which determined the psychology of various classes and 
various sections of Russian society in the post-Reform, but pre-Re- 
volutionary era.’ 

In Lenin's view, as Lukacs puts it, "the contradictions in 
Tolstoy's views and images... forms an organic unity which is 
the philosophical and artistic reflection of both the greatness- and 
weakness of the peasant movement between the liberation of 
the serfs in 1 861 and the revolution of 1 905. Subjectively seen, 
Tolstoyism with its asceticism, non-resistance to evil, pessimism, 
faith in the spirit etc. is "an ideology of an Oriental, an Asiatic 
order, "3 it is "certainly Utopian" and in content most "reactio- 
nary". Tolstoy's realistic creativity, however, is able to transcend 

146/INDIAN literature : 156 

the limitations of this subjective world-view and portray a live 
and comprehensive picture of the reality of the age. In this respect 
he resembles his great predecessor of Realism in France, Balzac 
in whom too, as Engels points out, there is the contradiction bet- 
ween a subjective vision and an objective apprehension of reality. 
If Engels placed Balzac far above Zola, it was because Balzac's 
realism could catch the spirit of the age in terms of its revolutionary 
movement, in spite of his royalist loyalties, whereas Zola's 
naturalism with its accurate delineation of surface phenomena 
failed to catch the soul of objective reality, even though he was 
a professed leftist in his sympathies. That Engels preferred the 
"reactionary" Balzac to the "progressive" Zola testifies to one 

of the cardinal ideas in Marxist aesthetics relating to the subjec- 
tive-objective nexus in Realism. Lenin follows the same tradition 
in his evaluation of Tolstoy, tries to understand the subjective- 
objective conflict in Tolstoy's work in a dialectical perspective, 
and establishes the greatness of Tolstoy as a supreme realist. 
This, I think, gives an important lesson for a critic of realistic 
fiction, namely, that it is fatal to underrate the objective picture 
provided in a work and attempt to draw value judgements based 
entirely on the author's ideology even as it inhibits a true under- 
standing of the literary work if the author's perspective is not 
taken into due consideration. 

p.K. rajan/147 

The revolutionary nature of Lenin's study is best seen in the 
way he analyses the interrelationship between the deficiencies 
in Tolstoy's views and the weaknesses in the historical reality 
itself. He sees the period of 1862-1904 as a period when the 
whole of the old order "has been turned upside down." It was 
"a period in which before everyone's eyes the old order col- 
lapsed, never to be restored, in which the new system was only 
just taking shape...."'* Lenin thus argues that Tolstoy's teachings 
were a natural product of such an epoch, that they were "ine- 
vitable" in that historical period, not as the personal viewpoints 
of an individual writer, but "as the ideology of the conditions of 
life under which millions and millions actually found themselves 
for a certain period of time."^ This identification of the writer's 
point of view with the popular ideology is a significant clue to a 
proper evaluation of literary masterpieces which are usually dub- 
bed reactionary or decadent based on their manifest ideology. 
Terry Eagleton's attempt to explain works like Eliot's The Waste 
Land and Conrad's Nostromo in Marxism and Literary Criticism 
may be taken as an illustration of the point. 

Closely allied to this is the question of significance or message 
in realistic fiction. Although Tolstoy's is the point of view of the 
patriarchal, naive peasant and his doctrine is really reactionary, 
Lenin discovers its true "significance" when he declares that it 
expressed with rare power "the radical change in the views of 
the broadest masses of the people in the Russia of this period, 
namely, rural, peasant Russia. This significance which, as 
Lukacs said later, arises from Tolstoy's "plebeian humanism" is 
integral to the truthful portrayal of reality in his fiction, it does 
not arise from any manifest partisanship or explicit statement of 
message or teaching. In this respect also he follows the typical 
Marxist position that what is all important in a realistic novel is 
the faithful portrayal of reality and this is reminiscent of Engels' 
famous dictum ; 

The socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission 
if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions it dispels the dorninant , 
conventional illusions concerning them, shakes the optimism of the 
bourgeois world, and inevitably instils doubt as to that which exists, 
without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, 
even without at times ostensibly taking sides, (ernphases added) 

148/INDIAN literature ; 156 

This means that the solution to the problem the novelist raises 
lies in the very portrayal of the problem itself which through its 
sheer power will dispel the "conventional illusions" regarding 
reality. Lenin therefore argues that the works of Tolstoy will teach 
the Russian people where "their own weakness lies" and that 
by studying them "the Russian working class will learn to know 
its enemies better." Even though the main thrust of this pleading 
is on the political utility of Tolstoy's work, the argument rests on 
the basic literary position that realistic art can unfold the essential 
reality beneath the surface without the author's explicit champ- 
ioning of a cause or his ostensible partisanship. This again is 
related to the broader question of the subjective and the objective 
we have already discussed. 

These basic questions Lenin sees as endemic to the fictional 
art of Tolstoy have generated a great deal of discussion and 
thrown up diverse perspectives and perceptions that enrich the 
theory of Realism. While I have no intention here to elaborate 
on those critical formulations, 1 should just make a mention of 
such brilliant applications of Lenin's ideas at the level of literary 
discourse like Lukacs' essay "Tolstoy and the Development of 
Realism" (1936) and Pierre Macherey's "Lenin, Critic of Tolstoy" 
(1964), only to cite examples of the remarkable studies that have 
followed Lenin's. I should also make a mention that there has 
grown in course of time an enormous body of critical theory, 
with its currents and cross currents of ideas, centred on Lenin's 
use of the image of the "Mirror", his view of "reflection" or 
"expression" as the central function of literature, and on allied 
issues like "typicality" of characters and situations, the "totality" 
of the painted picture, the work of art as a structural "unity" etc. 
The views and arguments on these are so original and divergent, 
and sometimes even provocative, that they constitute a highly 
fascinating area of theoretical intercourse. Does a literary work 
actually 'reflect' or 'deflect'? Does it present a photographic pic- 
ture of reality or does it, through a dialectical process, transform 
reality? Does the mirror provide a whole, rounded picture or 
only a partial picture, with fragmented images? What is the quality 
of the mirror — ordinary or special and selective? And its posi- 
tion — directly facing reality or at an angle to reality? Considera- 

p.K. rajan/149 

tions such as these lead critics to varying conclusions often oppo- 
site in their direction, on questions of the totality of the portrayed 
image, the structure of the literary work, the role of ideology in 
art, the relationship between the writer and the text etc. For 
instance, Lukacs who upholds the nineteenth century realistic 
tradition sees the literary work as an organized whole, Brecht 
dismisses Lukacs' position as Utopian idealism, Goldmann looks 
upon the literary work as a creation of "trans-individual mental 
structures", Jameson speaks of "the inner logic of content" which 
transforms reality and literary forms, Raymond Williams searches 
for the "corporate culture",' "emergent culture" etc. that the 
literary work signifies, Benjamin looks for the artist's relationship 

with the existing forms or artistic production, Macherey finds that 
a literary work is essentially "decentred" and that in a text, which 
is always "incomplete", what it does not say is as important as 
what it says. No one gives a last word, and the debates continue. 

This retrospect of the post-Lenin attempts towards a theory 
of Realism also makes me reflect for a moment on the state of 
Fiction Criticism in India. By and large, both in literary theory 
and critical practice, our achievement has not been considerable 
and certainly not commensurate with what we have achieved in 
the creative art of fiction. The history of the Novel in India is 
about 120 years old; and some of the best novelists in Indian 

150/iNDIAN literature : 156 

languages were already writing their works while Tolstoy was 
doing his masterpieces in Russia. We have had a rich crop of 
outstanding novelists in our country though of course, not of the 
stature of Tolstoy; and they include novelists like Bankim 
Chandra, Sarat Chandra, Premchand, Chandu Menon, C.V: 
Raman Pillai, Yashpal, Kalki, Birendrakumar Bhattacharya, 
Umashankar Joshi, Shivaram Karanth, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pil- 
lai, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Unnava Lekshminarayana, 
Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and so on. But the scene of criticism 
does not present an equally impressive array of writers although 
it is true that like the occasional greenery in an otherwise barren 
wasteland there have been certain singular achievements of some 

value. In Malayalam literary criticism, for instance, writers like 
Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, M.P. Paul, P.K. Balakrishnan, K. Suren- 
dran, K.P. Saratchandran andK.P. Appan have made some useful 
contribution to the criticism of fiction; and N. Krishna Piilai's 
Pratipathram Bhashanabhedam may Ire counted as a unique 
stylistic study of C.V. Raman Piilai's fiction. Nevertheless, it 
remains a fact that taken as a whole critical practice has not yet 
produced outstanding works of fictional criticism on the major 
novelists in Malayalam, critical works that could stand comparison 
with the first rate criticisms that appear In the West. It is not 
fortuitous, therefore, that Malayalam, criticism is yet to produce 

p.K. rajan/151 

a full length critical study of Thakazhi's fiction. Add to this our 
relative failure to create an adequate body of a theory of fiction, 
the picture of this unhappy state of criticism becomes complete. 
And this compels us to do some introspection in this respect. 

I think a really genuine criticism of fiction in India has to take 
into account three basic factors: first, the socio-political milieu 
which gives shape to the work of fiction; second, the Indian 
literary tradition which unites different strands like the myths, the 
folk literature, the epic and puranic narrative forms, the conven- 
tions of the parables and moral fables; and third, an intelligent 
assimilation and adaptation of the ideas of western theories of 
the art of fiction. It cannot afford to be imitative; it doesn't have 
to accept Thomas Mann and repudiate Kafka just because Lukacs 
preferred the former. It has to be daringly original and objective 
and true to our own experience and vision. 


1. V.l. Lenin, “L.N. Tolstoy" (1910), in On Literature and Art CiSS?; rpt. Mos- 
cow: Progress Publishers, 1978), pp. 54-55. 

2. Georg Lukacs, "Tolstoy and the Development of Realism" in Studies in Euro- 
pean Realism (1950; rpt. London: The Merlin Press, 1978), p. 126. 

3. V.l. Lenin, "Leo Tolstoy and His Epoch" (1911), in On Literature and Art, 
op. cit., p. 66. 

4. Ibid., p. 67. 

5. Ibid. 

6. V.l. Lenin, "L.N. Tolstoy and the Modern Labour Movement," in On Lite- 
rature and Art, op. cit,, p. 60. 

7. Letter to Minna Kautsky, London, 26 November 1985, in Karl Marx and 
Fraderick Engels, On Literature and Art (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p. 88. 




i am writing this response to Namvar Singh's article ("Decolonis- 
ing the Indian Mind," IL No. 151) to point out his blatant 
misrepresentation regarding U.R. Ananthamurthy's Kannada 
novel Samskara. We have always known that Hindi literarymen 
have a pathological hatred for (ndo-Anglians writers. This may be 
because they think that the Indo-Anglian have usurped the posi- 
tion that Hindiwallahs think is their own. But from Singh's diatribe 
against Samskara it seems that Hindi literarymen are allergic to 
successful English translations also. 1 cannot understand why 
Singh has to drag in the English version oi Samskara in his article 
in Hindi (originally). Singh has used his own brand of 'subversive 
aesthetics' to insinuate that the author of Samskara has written 
his work to purvey quaint Indian customs for the benefit of West- 
ern scholars and readers and get praised for his Indianness. (Here 
I have to point out that the people involved in the cock-fight 
sequence in Samskara are not tribals but only ordinary shudras 
whose world is unfamiliar to the Acharya but very much familiar 

GIRISH V. wagh/153 

to the readers of Samskara in Karnataka's many districts including 
the author's Shimoga, even today). 

Singh conveniently forgets that Samskara was originally writ- 
ten in an Indian language for an Indian readership and it was 
translated into English full ten years after it was published in 
Kannada. It was probably translated into some Indian languages 
like Hindi even before that. Singh's article does not name any 
Western scholars who have praised its Indianness as he claims 
they have done. (I hope he has not taken seriously V.S. Naipaul's 
left-handed compliments in his book 'India — a Wounded Civili- 
zation'). May be Singh thinks that the author is guilty of this 
'crime' of thirsting for 'praise from the west' because he had 
agreed to the publication of an English version of his work. I also 
know of another Marathi novelist and critic who has declared 
his contempt for Indian writers who permit English translations 
of their works to be published. If this is the 'crime' of the author 
of Samskara then the author of Cora was also guilty of this 'crime.' 
We should not forget that the author of Ceefanya// himself trans- 
lated his own poetry into English. May be he was not after gaining 
'Nobel' prize but only countering Western imperialistic hege- 
mony. When the late Satyajit Ray was filming Tagore's novel 
Home and the World he had lamented the absence of realistic 
details of the milieu in the novel. This lacuna is also there in 
Gora. But Singh thinks that it is a virtue and castigates the author 
of Samskara for having given detailed realistic descriptions. 

Though Singh has insinuated that works like Samskara are 
created with an eye on western readers, this has not been pointed 
out by any Indian critic, Kannada or non-Kannada until now. 
The late Ka. Na. Subramaniam, a well-known Tamil Indian critic, 
had written an article on Samskara in Mirror (Nov. 1983, Bom- 
bay). This article was part of a series of articles on 'Ten Great 
Indian Novels.' Subramaniam has not.cited any Western scholar 
in support of his evaluation of the novel. Similarly Meenakshi 
Mukherjee has detailed her own response to the novel in a whole 
chapter in her book Realism and Reality (1985; OUP). In a 
foot-note she has referred to an article by a British critic, along 
with that of two other Indian critics. But she has not cited any 

154/INDIAN literature : 156 

Western scholar's praise to support her own close reading of the 

Singh upholds the author of Cora as a decoloniser because 
he has converted his hero from an orthodox Hindu into a liberal 
Indian. But Meenakshi Mukherjee in her paper 'Narrating a 
Nation' {Indian Literature, 1 50) has made the following observa- 
tion about Cora's 'Liberation', after quoting the same passage 
from the novel which Singh has also quoted : 

Since Cora's providential solution cannot be replicated for others, 
the competing claims of class, caste, ethnicity, language and religion 
on the political subject in India continue to problematise the ques- 
tion of identity even in our time. 

It is this competition which led a Mohamed Ali jinnah to 
denounce Indians like Gandhi and Nehru as Hindus. It is the 
same problem of identity which made a large number of the 
Anglo-Indian community (to which Tagore's Cora belonged) to 
emigrate to White (Cora) Australia, rejecting the Indian identity 
conferred on them by our constitution fashioned by anti-imperia- 
listic liberal Indians of the pre-Independence era. Singh of course 
blames the imperialists and their Indian agents for partitioning 
the country. Singh conveniently forgets that the same Bengali 
middle class which rejected the partition of Bengal in 1905 and 
successfully agitated for its reunion in 1911, did not do anything 
to ameliorate the condition of the toiling masses in rural Bengal 
who were mostly Muslims. Thus the repartition of Bengal on 
communal lines became inevitable. The betrayal of the masses 
seen in Bengal has been repeated after 1 947 all over India. 

'Vulgar Marxists' have always denounced 'modernism' in 
literature as a product of the decadent capitalist society. One 
can expect a 'cultured Marxist' like Singh to deplore the 'radical 
individualism bordering on nihilism' which the portrayal of 
Praneshacharya in the last half of Samskara exemplifies. Younger 
critics writing-in Kannada have been denouncing the absence of 
the 'social man' and the glorification of the 'alienated man' in 
the works of Navya (modernist) writers of the fifties and sixties. 
This criticism is valid. But in the sixties, persons like the late M.G. 
Krishnamurthy (the English version of Samskara has been dedi- 

GIRISH V. wagh/155 

Gated to him) praised works like Samskara which they thought 
exposed the decadent aspects of Hinduism. Such an exposure 
would counter the efforts of some cultural nationalists who 
praised these same aspects as a panacea for the ills of the modern 
world. M.G. Krishnamurthy was also aware of the limitations of 
works like Samskara, In fact he has put it on record that the 
failings of such novels showed that we had not yet found solutions 
to the questions raised by the failure of the Indian society to 
counter the influence of Western culture in the nineteenth cen- 
tury. This is also Singh's lament. But he claims that the pre-inde- 
pendence generation had already found the solutions and the 
post-Independence generation has forgotten them. 

Harish Trivedi has referred in his article to Singh's search for 
an alternative literary tradition in India's past. In the last two 
decades similar attempts have been made by critics and scholars 
in most of the living literatures of India. It would have benefited 
the readers more if, instead of tilting at imperialistic windmills, 
Singh had detailed the findings of his own critical scrutiny. 




T he formulation of the title, which warrants the complexity of 
the mechanism of alien influences-and the subtle process of 
alienation from one's own literary culture, immediately reminds 
one of E.E. Kellet's long critical essay: The Whirligig of Taste 
(1929) on the British literary taste. After half a century of the 
period of Independence the shadow of literary colonialism lies 
heavily upon our literary taste. The problem of decolonization 
of Indian mind, or say Asian mind, has not yet occupied the 
central position in our critical thought. A small upper caste/class 
anglicized section of Indian society still dominates the literary 
culture and skilfully retains intra-culture imperialism to exploit 
the illiterate majority. It is this caste-class based compartmentali- 
zation which convitions the imagination of our creative writers 
and arrests the growth of literature which is cross-pollinated (pol- 
luted?) after the colonial contact. Namwar Singh in his thought 
provoking key-note address 'Decolonisingthe Indian Mind',^ has 
not given a detailed exposition of the method and manner of 
spreading 'the lie of the land' through 'brokering' English literature 
in India. However, he has rightly pointed out: 

"It is this small colonized class that has claimed to be the cultural and 
literary avant garde of India after Independence, and it lays claim too to 
having modernized and developed Indian literature. This class also lays 
claim to having effected decolonization, and never mind the fact that a 
lot of it is in reality pseudo-decolonization." 



Namwar talks in terms of class conflict and fails to enumerate 
the nature and scope of the mixed processes: Anglicization + 
Sanskritization 4- Brahmanization = Modernization or Westerni- 
zation. Meenakshi Mukherjee has placed the Twice Born' Indian 
Writing in EnglisTi in the right perspective and Bhalchandra 
Nemade has exposed its rootlessness relentlessly. We have seen 
the end of 'socialism' recently but imperialism has been writing 
back through the colonized immigrant intellectuals such as Nirad 
C. Chaudhuri, V.S. Naipaui, Salman Rushdie and many others 
who write from abroad in English and in Indian languages. The 
environmentalists have not yet noticed this literary contamination 
which spreads the Plague of the poetics of parrotry and the art 
of mimicry. 

Thus, many sets of problems are involved in the 'oppressive 
present' and our colonial consciousness. Every one of them 
derives from the general issues addressed in my earlier article. 
'The Whirligig of Taste; Decolonization of Teaching and Re- 
search in India' (NEW QUEST, Dec. 1992 No 96). The most 
important of them are; domination of the dwarfing influences of 
the First World Literature, responsibilities of teachers, writers, 
publishers and other mediators of alien influences, colonialistic 
modernity-tradition polarity, search of self-reliant indigenous lite- 
rary traditions, awareness of Indian identity, ambivalence in the 
use of language as well as attitude to alien aesthetics, reformation 
of the narrow Hindu caste-based fundamentalism, extension of 
the monopolized canon and so on. 

Some scholars believe that decolonization has been the 
greatest event of world history in the 20th century; but vague 
notions such as the 'Third World', 'Difference' and the 'Destiny 
of the Easf are yet secret devices of colonization. They opine 
that the focus of literary creativity has shifted from Euramrican 
centres to Asia, Africa and Latin America (Namwar Singh, 1 52- 
53). But this can be accepted with some reservations because 
postcolonialism does not mean postmodernism in our borrowed 
literary culture and revival of some indigenous literary traditions 
by commercialized elites does not mean that nativism is at the 
centre of our creative or critical thinking. Western centres of 
learning control the thinking process of our writers and Indian 

158/indian literature : ise 

intellectual 'journey' to the West is considered a must for attaining 
an Indian identity. Our writers 'exhibit' their 'Indianness' before 
Western 'ideal/implied' reader by returning to the indigenous 
tradition without having its deep knowledge and intimate con- 
tact. Perhaps this false familiarity breeds contempt among stu- 
dents so they are attracted to the'foreign things' such as Ameri- 
can, Canadian or British literature. Either a survey of the University 
teachers of English carried out from sociological viewpoint or the 
scrutiny of any literary journal in Indian English or of a title such 
as R.S. Rajan, ed. The Lie of the Land (1992) would reveal a 
number of whirligigs of taste arising out of clash of alien and 
indigenous loyalties. The new open market economic policy is 
likely to multiply the number of elite exiles in their own land, 
and give rise to nativistic language revival movements led by the 
writers and publishers whose grandchildren are the citizens of 
the First World. 

Our originally fragmented culture gives little scope to what 
Abdul Jan Mohamed describes as a 'theory of minority dis- 
course', ^ Minority discourse is defined as 'a variety of minority 
voices engaged in retrieving texts repressed or marginalised by 
a society that espouses universalistic, univocal, and monological 
humanism. 'We need to describe and define the common deno- 
minators that link various Asian minority cultures on the strength 
of the fact that they all share an 'antagonistic relationship to the 
dominant culture, which seeks to marginalize them all. 'Madhav 
Prasad^, considering the Fanonian reading of the colonial context 
by Edward Said, Homi Bhaba, Gayatri Spivak etc., concludes 
that the critics of colonialism (1) share a belief in the continued 
existence of the primary antagonism at the heart of the colonial 
relation, between coloniser and colonised; (2) are committed to 
a 'repressive hypothesis' of culture; (3) their account of the colo- 
nial relation is only marginally receptive to the transformations in 
political economy and their relation to the psychodrama of the 
colonial encounter; (4) these discourses understand globality as 
a matter of international relations' resembling the notion of 'in- 
terpersonal relations' in their tendency to treat cultural entities 
as existing prior to their encounter in the imperialist era . , . Prasad's 
analysis of Max Muller's essay on 'Caste' shows how culture was 


'invented and deployed as a means of indirect rule' first by the 
Brahmins and then by the British colonisers. These masks of 
conquest, as exposed by Gauri Viswanathan in her Masks of 
Conquest : Literary Study and British Rule in India (1 988), are 
still used for the universalization of its own ideology which seems 
to dissolve these identities into a 'new' and 'higher' unity. This 
background of the poetics of failure explains as to why we do 
not have among Asians a Chinua Achebe, a Gabriel Garcia Mar- 
quez or a Neungi Wa Thiong'o. It is better to limit this discussion 
to the Indian context only; especially to the mechanism of literary 
influences and the effects of alienation on the creative works. 

At the risk of self-aggrandirment, I may mention myself, 
having published some fiction in the regional language and an 
Influence study in English entitled Western Influence on Marathi 
Drama: 1818-1947: A Case Study (1992), as an Indian researcher 
who fails to identify his literary taste. My study of the English 
influence on Marathi drama of the British period in India revealed 
the following main findings; (1) The colonized literary culture 
has accepted the English dramatic genres as their own without 
keeping at the centre their own indigenous dramatic traditions. 
The desire of the colonized writer to assimilate alien forms of 
drama with the indigenous gave rise to innumerable creative 
tensions. The tug of war between alien and indigenous tendencies 
disintegrated the work of art. The period of the British contact 
of one and a half centuries and consequent linguistic as well as 
literary acculturation shows four distinct periods of cumulative 
influences of English drama spreading like an epidemic. The pro- 
cess of institutionalization of English literature in India based on 
imperialistic ideology has been controlling those Indians who 
became 'experts', rewriters or translators of 'their-colonisers' lite- 
rature. Literary works of such experts trained by the white Sahibs 
are 'mirrors' of culture as culture was interpreted by those who 
controlled the literary establishment. As the whole society was 
controlled on the basis of ideology by alien 'patrons', the literary 
system inside the society was governed on the principles of the 
master's poetics. So we had, to use Andre Lefevere's'* words, 
'rewriters', translators, mimics, adaptors, imitators, plagiarists 
and so on; but hardly any original creative writer of high stature. 


The self-imposed mission of the colonisers to modernize (or 
anglicize) Indian vernacular literatures was guided by the models 
of literary renaissance in Europe. Their Shakespeare and English 
national drama were the products of the cross-culture encounter 
on equal grounds and produced in the mono-religious, mono- 
cultural situation. In India it was a meeting of two unequal literary 
traditions: one dominant; the other weak and enslaved. Shakes- 
peare was a folk dramatist first and then a poet dramatist. On 
the contrary, our Brahman-Shastri playwrights looked down upon 
the folk drama which was preserved by the lower caste artists. 
Shastris were totally ignorant of the indigenous tradition of clas- 
sical drama so they received English drama uncritically and the 
ambivalence in reception further complicated the generic confu- 
sion which reigned supreme in the British dramaturgy of the 18th 
and 1 9th centuries. The short-lived superficial 'honey-moon' of 
two traditions begot half-baked, abortive or stillborn products of 
false influence. European writers enjoyed great literary fortune 
so much that we should not use the concepts such as 'influence' 
or 'impact' to describe this literary hyj^ridization during the colo- 
nial period. Moreover, western theories of influence aesthetics, 
reception, response etc. fall short in the analysis of the literary 
cross-pollination in the colonial situation. It would be interesting 
to study the literary fortunes of Shakespeare in a French colony 
and Moliere's fate in the British colony. This mixture and network 
of alien as well as native influences demands multi-dimensional 
approaches and varied methods. To cut the long story short, we 
have today the anglicized and Brahmanical caste/class-bound 
drama in Marathi but not the native Marathi drama in the Marathi 
language. This leads us to the discussion of the paradoxical tauto- 
logy namely the Indianness of Indian literature both in English 
and in any Indian language. 


It is really difficult to define specific indianness because our 
regional sensibilities and base lines for demarcation of alienation 
are not yet marked distinctly. On the contrary, in the First World 
literary critical thinking, the problem of influences has been 


placed at the centre since long.^ We have neither defined clearly 
what is meant by "characteristically Indian" nor given a serious 
thought to the missing links and inherent weaknesses in our indi- 
genous literary traditions. The lack of identity and self-reliance, 
linguistic and literary competence complicate the problem still 
further. Acquisition of the strength to free oneself from all kinds 
of alien as well as indigenous dwarfing influences is a true test 
of the creative writer. But we have not yet understood "the other 
question: difference, discrimination and discourse of colonia- 
lism." "It is the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial 
stereotype its currency: ensures its 'repeatability in changing his- 
torical and discursive conjunctures; informs its strategies of indi- 

viduation and marginalization; produces that effect of probabilis- 
tic truth and predictability which, for the stereotype, must always 
be in excess of what can be empirically proved or logically 
ensured."^ This is why our comparative approach to the study 
of English must begin with the assessment of the balance-sheet 
of alien borrowings during the colonial period first and then the 
microscopic stockchecking of the indigenous survivals, Cyrena 
Pondrom^ aptly emphasised the significance of such a period 
study which enables us. "to assess the full range of influence to 
identify the ideas or techniques most important "to the period 
as a whole, and "to examine the course of transmission rather 

162/INDIAN literature : 156 

than the effects of influence alone. Observing the course of trans- 
mission lays the foundation for the revaluation of some literary 
reputation." Among our caste/class-divided literati such indepth 
influence-studies seem to be discouraged in order to protect the 
vested interests and 'literary image' of the writer. It is cultural 
imperialism which does not favour influence-studies which tend 
to expose literary mimicry and parrotry bred by colonialism. 
Extra-textual approaches to literature are deemed irrelevant and 
the alienated teachers' Utopian activities result in the sterile intel- 
lectual intercourse which yields no fruits. The Big Brother attitude 
of the First World Literature not only contaminates our teaching 
in the classroom by creating inferiority complex but it affects the 
creative process of the writer alienated from his soil. 

in such circumstances it is a futile exercise to search for the 
features of the Indianness, which we find in the literature of the 
less caste-compartmentalized medieval saint poets, or in the 
sophisticated yet nativistic films of Satyajit Ray and novels of 
Shivaram Karanth or in the modern writings of our anglicized 
writers both in English and in other Indian languages. The Indo- 
anglian literature of the westernized minority has been enjoying 
a false prestige as representative Indian literature since the British 
contact. The dual standards of judging Indian writing in English 
and in the regional languages by the borrowed paradigms of alien 
aesthetics has done much damage to our literary taste. For exam- 
ple, compare the disparity in interpretation and evaluation of 
Nirad C. Chaudhuri's writings in English. D. Anjaneyulu's recent 
article 'Nirad C. Chaudhuri: The Writer Extraordinary' (Journal 
of Indian Writing in English, Jan-july 1992, 20, 1-2, pp. 243-36) 
is full of eulogies. To the other extreme/ the spokesman of nati- 
vism, Bhalchandra Nemade® finds Chaudhuri a very incompetent 
as well as hypocritical writer. He observes," he (Chaudhuri) 
avoids in his Autobiography, how many 'children he bred', 
because breeding about a dozen children, the real cause of 
Indian poverty, would not create a good impression on theB.B.C. 
or the New Statesman reviewer. Had he written his autobiography 
in Bengali, he would have proudly mentioned the number beca- 
use our Krishna worshipping culture adores childhood ad libi- 
tum".^ In similar vein he further exposes the pseudo-indianness 

anand b. patil/163 

in the English fiction of R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao 
and others. He bluntly states, "Raja Rao, who opens his master- 
piece The Serpent and the Rope with a statement 'I was born a 
Brahmin' hopelessly alienates himself from the general humanity 
all through his novel" (pp. 22-28). This onslaught seems to have 
provoked reaction from Raja Rao.^ Taking a defensive position, 
he asserts: "So i assert that there is an echo of the mother-tongue 
behind all Indian English creative writings. " But alas! these echoes 
are very feeble and marginalised by the mode of operation of 
English as a supra language. Nemade has rightly pointed out that 
such a written variety of English, which has not emerged from 
the native soil, is highly detrimental to creative use, and the 
sphere of its communication is limited to elitist upper castes, 
mostly uprooted. Further he questions the credibility and status 
of Indian Writing in English which he reduces to the level of "the 
fine art of parrotry." Finally he arrives at the conclusion : 

"It is doubtful whether this writing will add any "Indianness" to world 
writing in English. A well planned programme of translations from the 
regional languages into English will at once make this writing obsolete. 
Until then let it survive as a clear case of mimicry, (p. 31)'' 

One can understand Nemade's ardent nativism but my study 
of the Marathi drama of the British period, as mentioned before, 
shows that the writings in Indian languages are also very much 
derivative, imitative and artificial offshoots of western generic 
hierarchy. This is the imperial literary labyrinth which i have been 
describing as an Indian whirligig of literary taste in the static 
culture. It not only does affect the writer's identity but also the 
integrity of his literary work. Thrusting Indian reality into borrow- 
ed generic forms does harm either to the former or to the latter. 

We always think in terms of our sub-culture or caste groups. 
In-group and out-group thinking give rise to the exo-culture con- 
cepts which condition the imagination and vision of our writers. 
Moreover, our pre-British literary tradition had established the 
poetics of plagiarism which encourages imitation. Individuality 
of the writer was totally absent in it. Stark reality, horror or tragedy 
in the western metaphysical sense can never be found in Indian 
literature which favours Romanticism, sentimentalism and idealis- 
tic representation of reality. The caste-based politics of represen- 

164/INDIAN literature : 156 

tation in art is one more baffling problem for which we can never 
find solutions in western theories. Under such circumstances 
how should we trace the Indianness in Indian literature? C. Paul 
Verghese (1975) and other scholars argue that true Indianness is 
to be found only in the speech of an Adiwasi common man or an 
illiterate savage, a few folk forms, and to some extent in the 
writings of modern rural and Dalit writers. But owing to the domi- 
nance of the anglicized Brahmanical literary taste, which cano- 
nizes literary works, the writers coming from the lower caste can 
hardly resist the compelling process of westernization in the dis- 
guise of modernization and are soon alienated from their artistic 
roots which are least recognised by the dominant taste. These 
intra-cultural and Intra-literary conflicts and tensions dwarf our 
writers more than alien influence does. All such complexities and 
conflicts, which interlock around the 'power of translation', may 
be examined with special reference to our 'National language. 
Education, Literature' etc. Renee Balibar's’o observations on the 
distinctions between colinguism and bilinguism, plurilinguism 
and other kinds seem to be relevant in the Indian context. The 
creative work of a writer moves in the field where institutions 
and linguistic apparatuses interplay, and in the present day Indian 
democracy a change in the structure ofthe literary culture-bearing 
stratum is likely to change the sad conclusion drawn by Vilas 
Sarang” and other critics regarding the development of contem- 
porary Indian writing. Like Namwar Singh, Sarang finds Indian 
literature, at the end cf the 20th century, 'in grave peril' He 
reminds us of the great achievements of the Latin American writ- 
ers, and further adds," ... there is no reason why this vast sub-con- 
tinent with numerous languages and subcultures cannot produce 
writers who will advance towards new territory. If Indian litera- 
tures fail to do this, they will be, in the context of world literature, 
merely seen as anachronistic vestiges from a dead and irrelevant 
past. Let us hope that, in the 21st century, Indian literature will 
breakout the barriers and forge anew 'the conscience ofthe race.' 

Sarang has not explained the "barriers" or a new 'territory', 
in fact, our writers, who make "only a feeble effort towards 
expanding its scope and horizons", lack the poetics of resistance, 
fi;e theories of the oppressed and the aesthetics of influence 


which the Latin American writers have developed through storm 
and strife. For example, a comparative study of Gloria Anzaldua's 
Borderlands/La Frontera the New Mesiza (1987) and any so-cal- 
led experimental writing by the Indian woman writer would throw 
a flood of light on what is rotten in our literary culture. Gloria's 
multilingual book defies all norms of the generic classification. 
Her acute sense of identity is revealed in the following paragraph : 

"Chicanos and other people of our colour suffer economically for not 
acculturating. This voluntary (yet forced) alienation makes for psycho- 
logical conflict, a kind of dual identity — We don't identify with the 
Anglo-American cultural values and we don't totally identify with the 
Mexican cultural values. We are a synergy of two cultures with various 
degrees of Mexicanness or Angloness. I have so internalized the borderland 
conflict that sometimes I feel like one cancels out the other and we are 
zero, nothing, no one (p. 63)." 

This search of the internalized cultural conflict is a first step 
towards the decolonization of our deeply colonialized literary 
canon. A case study shows that the majority of cases of literary 
infection flows from the West. Except a few enlightened Indian 
intellectuals our writers and theorists are not convinced by the 
Fanonian attitude that 'it would be better for you to be a native 
at the uttermost depths of his misery than to be a former settler'. 
On the contrary, they take false pride in introducing the innova- 
tions and modernity borrowed through English. The Indian philo- 
sophy of tolerance, the temptation to harmonize homogenity 
and heterogenity and the elitist desire to maintain a dialogue with 
the Western world to retain literary monopoly and intra-culture 
imperialism are the chief obstacles in the process of distinguishing 
Indianness as cultural otherness, and also in the attempts at put- 
ting an end to colonialism and neocolonialism, political and 
mental. So, to borrow from Georg M. Gugelberger,’^ the 'tasks 
for us' are to undertake research in the area of"geo-thematics". 
It shows that the West has always understood how and why to 
marginalize the cultures and implicitly the literary works of 'the 
rest of us'. Indian writers have not yet learnt, unlike the African 
or Latin American ones, how plagiarism of the Western literature 
can be used as an effective weapon of decolonization.’^ They 
have neither paid much attention to the issues connected with 


the effects of the borrowings .from international cultural forms 
which are insensitive to the issues of 'cultural imperialism'. One 
would like to pose a question, to borrow from Kwame Anthony 
Appiah,^'^ is the Post-in Post-modernism- the Post-in Post-colonial 
in India? To find answers to such pertinent questions we have 
to revolutionise not only linguistic code, which shows the widest 
gulf between the language of literature and the speech of the 
common man, but also the literary taste which has blocked the 
healthy development of the 'national literature'. 


The sociology of literary taste is a totally unexplored area in 
Indian literature. During the colonial period the Brahman class 
and very few upper caste factions, which monopolized learning, 
dominated the process of the institutionalization of the English 
and the marginalized vernacular literatures under the guidance 
of the British rulers. There was little scope to question the rele- 
vance of literary texts to the Indian life. Hence the mastery of 
English language and literary forms made all the difference^ 
English was the only factor which distinguished the modern from 
the traditional literary taste. In the post-colonial period the elitist 
taste has still retained its strongholds through the predominance 
of the medium of English; but the masses in the.democratic coun- 
try have begun to exercise their power. The lower castes, which 
have succeeded in asserting their rights with the spread of edu- 
cation, demands more space for incorporation oftheir taste which 
generally comes in conflict with the Brahmanical literary canon 
that is known for not admitting members from outside. Those 
who are not admitted into the inside circles of the literary culture 
adopt negative attitude to the native traditions and are soon 
attracted to the foreign theories of the oppressed. The Dalit and 
rural writers' repeated attacks on the elitist anglicised literary taste 
demonstrated — ^they had found their predecessors in the saint 
poets like Dnyaneswar and Tukaram — ^that literary taste is not a 
constant quality or a universal organ. It is something that alters 
over time, between cultures and even societies. What matters 
most is to share the power that controls the literary canon. It is 


closely connected not only with the changes in social structure 
but also with the Zeitgeist. The key to understanding literary 
history lies in an investigation of taste. Ultimately, the literature 
of protest produced by the writers of Little Magazines, mass 
movements and other oppressed groups stormed the strongholds 
of taste such as schools, publishing houses. Universities and age 
old literary organisations. On the other side, the literary culture- 
bearing dominant elite group, which was basically alienated from 
the masses by the colonial force of westernization, met with 
frustration and got disillusioned in the post-colonial situation. As 
it has failed to maintain the status quo, it has conquered other 
media such as TV, radio, immigrant literature etc. to retain its 

cultural imperialism spread indirectly through them by the West. 

Levin Schucking’^ has offered a theory to determine the 
dominant literary taste of a given period. He introduces the notion 
of a culture bearing stratum, which can be easily identified with 
the Brahman Shastri class in India, in a society made up of those 
who propogate taste. According to him art is dependent on those 
propogators of taste, and "the ability of such groups to assert 
themselves is again dependent on the degree of power they can 
exercise within the social structure." Their power is determined 
primarily by the extent to which they dominate "the mechanism 
of artistic life." This point has been already illustrated with a 

1 68/INDIAN literature •. l 56 

reference to the mixed processes viz. Anglicization + Sanskriti- 
zation + Brahmanization = Modernization or Westernization. 
This dreadful process was controlled by the colonizers during 
the British period; but even now the formula works indirectly. It 
means that the 'classic' taste, which the post-independence gen- 
erations of writers inherit, is only the choice of a very small 
caste/class culture group. It is not representative of the vast sub- 
continent which is full of variety of sub-culture groups, languages, 
dialects, thousands of castes and creeds and what not. In fact it 
offers a fertile field for presentation in a literary work. But why 
do our writers fall short? What has been canonized as great works 
of art by the dominant culture-bearing small class are thus works 
selected by individuals in power. It is not necessarily the good 
that asserts itself through tradition; but rather "that which wins 
through will be regarded as good." So perhaps we have a number 
of mass canonized good books which are very often ignored by 
the 'classic' taste. 

IParts of a paper presented at the International Conference 
organised by the English Association of Bangladesh at Dhaka] 


1 . Namwar Singh, 'Decolonizing the Indian Mind', Indian Literature (Sep. '92) 
152, pp. 151, 155. 

2. Abdul )an Mohamod & Devid LIyod, Introd. The Nature and Context of 
Minority Discourse (N.Y. ; O.U.P. 1990) p. 1. 

3. Madhav Prasad, 'The 'Other' Worldliness of Postcolonial Discourse: a 
Critique', Critical Quarterly, 34(3) (Autumn, 1992) pp. 87-88, 

4. Andre Lefeverc, 'Systems Thinking and Cultural Relations' Jadhavpur Journal 
of Comparative LiieraWre, 20-27 (1 987), p. 60. 

5. Stephen Berg, ed. In Praise of What Persists, (1983), Intro. 

6. Homi Bhaba, "The Other Question: difference, discrimination and the Dis- 
course of colonialism'. Literature Politics and Theory, ed. Francis Barker et al. 
(London : Methuen, 1986), p.148. 

7 . Cyrena Pondrom, The Roads from Paris : French Influences on English Poetry 
(Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974) pp. 22-28. 

8. Bhnichandra Nemade, Indo-Anglian Writings (Dharwad: Karnatak Univ., 
1991), pp. 22. 


9. Raja Rao, 'Pigeon-Indian : A note on the Emergence of Indian English Litera- 
ture, The Journal of Indian Writing in English, 20-2 (Jan. 1992) pp. 1-4, 

10. Renee Balibar, 'National Language, Education, Literature', Francis Barker 
et al ed. op. cit. pp. 126-47. 

1 1 . Vilas Sarang, 'Tradition and Conflict in the Context of Marathi Literature', 
Indian Literature, 151 (Sept. 1992) p 167. 

12. Georg Gugelberger, 'Decolonizating the canon: Considerations of Third 
World Literature', New Literary History, 3-22 (Aut. 1991) p. 520. 

1 3. See Marilyn Randall, 'Approriate(d) Discourse: Plagiarism and Decoloniza- 
tion', New Literary History, 2-22 (1991), pp. 525-39. 

14. See Kwame Anthony Appiah, 'Is the Post-in Postmodernism the Post-in Post 
colonial?' Critical Inquiry 17-2 (Writer 1991) pp. 336-57, 

15. Levin Schucking, as summarised in Robert Holub, Reception Theory (London: 
Methuen, 1978), p. 81 

In Memoriam 

( 1929 - 93 ) 


I could have rested. 

Had I the wrong word, 
had I the courage 
to be gawky and awkward, 

I’d have breasted 
my shotgun pulses 
and spread my patchwork sail 
between her smile 
and the counter-image 
of her twining love for someone else’s 
love. Had I been a coward, 
had I been even cold 
or just old and Paracelsus, 

1 could have rested now. 

I would have sold 
and fled my treeless island youth 
and told her 
several birds ago 
before they nested 
in the south 

of my burning foolish mouth. 

A.K. ramanujan/171 



tell me again in the dark 
about the wandering prince; 
and his steed, with a neem-leaf mark 
upon his brow, will prance 
again to splash his noonday image 
in the sleep of these pools. He will break 
with sesame words 
known only to the birds, 
the cobweb curtained door; and wake 
the sentinel, the bawdy cook; 
the parrot in the cage 
will shout his name 

to the gossip of the kitchen’s blowzy flame. 

Let him, dear granny, 
shape the darkness 
and take again 
the princess 

whose breath would hardly strain 
the spider’s design. 

But tell me now; was it for some irony 
you have waited in death 
let me learn again what once you learnt in youth, 
that this is no tale, but truth? 

172/iNDIAN literature : 156 



(On reading of the sudden death of 
Poet A.K. Ramanujan in Chicago) 

That summer’s day seems suddenly close, you and I 
sitting together in the bus parked beside 
the Elisabethkirche, the others having gone shopping 
up the cute cobbled streets that led 
to the University. Suddenly we were alone, 
although it was nothing. Just a thought- 
that we hadn’t met ever, though we had known 
of each other for twenty years. And here, 
we had to meet at a festival in Germany; 
now, this day at Marburg. There was much to talk 
about, least of all the poetry we wrote. 

1 remember so many things you said, sitting there, 
about Chicago where you had been living for years 
and were on your way back to, from Israel. 

How faraway, I wondered, those places and my own ‘ 
homeland that was indeterminate, a possibility 
called India, at that moment which was not past, not future. 
Young women wandered past as we looked, 
their unintelligible talk bringing alive 
the anirhated fragrance of that clear June afternoon, 
of their cool breasts, the downy gold of their armpits. 
Nothing else. Were you listening to- a silence 
you only understood? The road away from home? 
Suddenly you said you had something to buy, 
“Birkenstock sandals,” you went on to say. 

1 had never heard of this brand before. “They are 
the best, you know, Jayanta.” I didn’t. 

A Bata was all I knew. You smiled, as you rose. 


your eyes on the attractive shops across the street. 

I said I’d take a quick walk inside 
the old cathedral in the meantime. 

I don’t remember much else. Just a hint 
of the curve of the River Lahn in the distance, 
and the Schloss. The road away from home. 

And your gift of the bottle of Marburg champagne 
you brought for me when you returned with your shoes. 

It’s four years already to that June summer’s day. 
Strange I never wrote to you nor did you afterwards. 
It’s always strange to ask friends about one another. 

I have always wanted to ask you 
about those Birkenstock sandals you got. 

Not about poetry or peace or love. 

I have wanted to tell you that I have not yet 
opened the bottle of champagne you brought me. 

It’s four years now. The pen gets heavier each day. 
But not the sight of your frail figure 
as you crossed a cobbled Marburg street 
with the abundant gentleness on your face. 

Cuttack, July 15, 1993 

( 1911 - 93 ) 


Homs and Claws 
Pauldrons on the shoulders 

A hole in the chest bones 
The dampness of lichens 
In the eyes. 

A listless hand 
lying on a foot 
holding a pen 
upside down. 

Hie back wound has filled three pans with blood. 
Even the network of roots hcjs 
hardened into a rock. 




A man pushing aside two mountains with his elbows 
is moving forward 
from East to West 
with giant steps 

He moves forward 
pulling his knees 
out of grasses so tall 
that they could touch 
the moon and stars 

Why then 

■ Are two strands of clouds 
bent on 
confusing him. 

176/INDIAN literature : 156 


My verse 
bits and pieces 
tea leaves 

trampled under foot 
My hide 

deprived and loose 
made of mud 

My hair ashen, unwashed, thin, falling, sticking to my neck 
Wheelbarrows of expectation parked in the afternoon sun 


Like my ribs .... 

Empty gunnysacks being darned ... They 
are the voids of my eyes. 

The pigeons crooned a ghazal 
1 could not understand 
the metrics 

the anguish was so sweet and subtle. 

The beaches of Ganges in heaven — the milky way — 
are sparkling like mirrors and I am asleep over there 
like mud 1 too am sparkling somewhere 
I can't tell where. 

My flute — the rudder of a boat — 
produces damp notes 
My heart produces damp notes 


Chhup Chhup Chhup Chhup 

He is bom who is going to beautify my death 
I’ve opened a shop where drugs labelled ‘poison’ laugh 
Their injections kill with love. 

She laughs at me even as she has her sole pressed against 
my lips and her hair pressed underneath my back 
scratching it like the thin strands of time 
A neat imprint of her kiss has been cmshed into my mouth 
by the pressure of her soles 
Her breasts have trampled me into pulp. 

Stretch me out on the mountains of thirst 
Where 1 am in throes like a waterfall. 

Let me bum in the sun 
so that you can dance like a fountain 
in the flaming arms 

Let me drip from dew like wild flowers 
so that you' can dip your sleepless 
burning eyebrows into it if you can. 

Talk to me 

like the diffident squeaks of my door 
talk to the countless chambers of my heart. 

Yes, I want you to love me like the fishes love the waves 
without getting entangled with them 
like the winds love my chest 
without pressing them too hard 
I want you to love me like I love you. 

O yoii mirrors! melt into ink and inscribe 
me in the sky and read me! 

Break into smiles and kill me! 

I live in you, O you mirrors! 

A flower clad in the bloom of daybreak 
clung to me 

as it took off the black blanket of night. 

178/INDIAN literature : 156 

It had no thorns — all it had was a very dark 
very long wave of hair that reached down 
to the earth where my feet were invisible. 

It was like a spray of perfume on me 
as it came on full of pearls 
looking askance at the stars 
dissolving them. 

And then I saw I was no more than a breath 
permeating that spray 
getting stuck perhaps in your bosom 
as you lie dreaming. 

I could not pay my homage to it 
for even as 1 was about to bow 
it vanished 

taking my eyes away with it. 

When you met me, I was a tom open envelope 
in your hands. 

You turned it inside out — it contained nothing — 

You threw it down: it was then you saw me on the ground 
You bent down to pick me up but then you left me there 
This is how I met you. 


You made me feel guilty about my memory and you 
made me suffer for it. And then I said — 

Till we meet again in our next incarnation! And 
I smiled like sorrowful mountains do 
as they sink in water at sunset. 

You praised my verse profusely. I thought 
You were telling me about yourself. You 
praised my verse so profusely. 

I let you dip me in whatever colours 
you thought fit and when they 
would not wash you put me on fire. 

You watched me as 1 burnt and 
I loved it. 

A bit of the blade of grass that got stuck 
to your teeth in that picnic 
is still planted in my sleep 

If I’d really envied anybody I’d have 
craved a new incarnation every hour but 
I think I’ve become immortal ifi this body 
thanks to you! 

I was swept off my feet by many 
riversides boats feathers 
that came my way. 

You thought you were in them all. 

No No No you were not. 

No one was in any of them. 

Only some sad sweet scents 
Of things that happened and 
Of things that did not 
That was all. 

Translated from Hindi by 
Krishna Baldev Void 



1 . Do you think that the Progressive Literary Movement has had 
a lasting impact on Indian literature? If so, in what way? 

2. The movement seems to have lost its initial creative dynamism, 
especially after the rise of the~Modemfsrtr^(fs rn.jegional 
liteTatures: Does it have anything to do with the aesthetic shift 
Brought about by Modernism? Or, have the issues raised by 
the early progressive writers turned stale and obsolete? 

3. How do you respond to the following self-criticism recently 
being made by some of the pioneers of the Progressive Move- 
ment (i) They often emphasised the socio-political aspect of 
creative writing at the expense of commitment was extremely 
narrow; it excluded not only obscuranist and proto-fascist 
literature, but even good literature that without being partisan 
refined the readers' sensibility and their awareness of nature 
and man and (iii) they ignored the relative autonomy of liter- 
ature and its freedom from the class-nature and the persona! 
ideology of the writer. 

4. Several young writers, especially, post-modernist ones, feel 
that the old ideal of purely political commitment is quite 
inadequate to meet the new challenges thrown up by our 
times. For them commitment means a broader concern for 
the whole species and even nature and includes the battle 
against the discrimination of race, gender and caste, ecolog- 
ical devastation, violence and war. What would be your defln- 


ition of commitment in the contemporary national and inter- 
national context? 

5. Do you believe that your younger writers lack the conviction 
of the early progressive writers and have become more scep- 
tical and even cynical espcially after the break-down of the 
Soviet model of statist socialism? Is their despair justified? 
Where should they turn to for a sustaining faith; to religion? 
The State? Micro-movements? The ultimate invincibility of the 
human spirit? Themselves? 



1 . At the very outset, two things must be made clear. First, it is 
difficult to talk about Indian literature in general comprising 
of so many different languages and literatures. So 1 would 
confine my answers to Bengali literature alone. Again, Pro- 
gressive Literary Movement is generally associated with a 
well-known political ideology. I believe that this Movement 
should also include writings bereft of any political ideology. 
To me. Progressive Movement also comprises of the works 
that take cognizance of the existence of the poor, mute and 
suffering people of the society and seek to give them a position 
of pride in literature. After all, a noted poet of post-Tagorean 
era, Achintya. Kumar Sengupta wrote; "I am a poet of the 
shoe makers, of the carpenters as well as of the sweepers." 
In his fictional works too he wrote about the downtrodden 
hapless people. But quite significantly, unlike Manik Bando- 
padhyay, Narayan Gangopadhyay and Samaresh Basu, he 
was an author singularly free from any political commitment. 
In Bengali fiction after Tagore, almost all notable works may 

182/INDIAN literature ; 156 

be described as part of Progressive Literary Movement, though 
the political views and commitments of the noted authors 
were widely divergent. In this connection the names of Tara 
Shanker and Manik Bandopadhyay almost autonratically 
come to our mind. The former's political belief and ideology 
was of the rightist hue but this did not deter him from writing 
about the 'have nots' and he had intimate personal knowledge 
about them. Mainly for this reason, this movement continues 
to exert tremendous influence on Bengali literature. 

2. In Bengali literature (particularly in fiction, the most Popuar 
genre of literature) the movement has not lost its initial creativ 
dynamism. This is not to deny that in Bengali literature the 
rise of Modernist trends is amply evident, in the works of popu- 
lar novelists, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Shirsendu Mu o 
padhyay to name only two among a host of others, 
cept of anti-hero, breaking of barriers separating 
nations of the world, magic realism etc. can be found, u 
the overriding emphasis is still on the Progressive. This i 
evident in the novels of Mahasweta Devi, Debesh Roy, Shaioa 
Mitra, once again to name only a few among many ot ers. 
It is true that these-writers do not seem to be unduly concerne 
with aesthetic beauty. They strangely believe that Issues raise 
by early progressive writers have not become stale and o so 
lete. Some of the issues concerning social justice, economic 
disparity, caste prejudice etc. are still important and t ey 
continue their struggle against social evils. 

3. (i) There is hardly any doubt that the pioneers of the r 

gressive Literary Movement emphasized the socio-po i 
ical aspect of creative writing often at the expense o 
aesthetic and stylistic finesse. Most of the young writers 
are still doing the same. 

(ii) As already stated their definition of commitment was no 
narrow at all. It should also be mentioned here that there 
Is no proto-fascist literature in Bengali. 

(iii) It is also quite heartening to find that the writers never 
ignored the relative autonomy of literature. Persona 
ideology of the writer hardly over exerted any influence 
on their literary works. LateSamaresh Basu, an immense > 

DILIP K. chakravarty/1 83 

popular writer started his career as a committed Marxist 
but later on, in a way reminiscent of George Orwell, 
switched over to a liberal and anti-Marxist attitude. Similar 
was the case with another talented writer, Gourkishore 
Ghose. Their rejection of leftist ideology did not create 
much furore, though subdued protests were heard from 
certain quarters. 

4. I believe that the young Bengali writers today are fully aware 
of the. fact that the progressive writers of earlier generation 
were conscious of the fact that political commitment alone is 
quite inadequate to meet the challenge of time. They have a 
broad concern for their fellow men. Therefore they do not 
feel the necessity of making any significant departure from 
the path of the earlier generation. Incidentally 1 would like to 
mention that the trends of post-modernist literature as we find 
them in continental literature have not arrived in a big way 
in our regional literature. One significant trend is however 
there. The protagonists of. several novels now show their 
awareness as world citizens and the national boundaries do 
not matter much to them. My definition of commitment in 
the contemporary and international context is that it is a deep 
and genuine awareness of the fact that the fissiparous tenden- 
cies arising out of colour prejudices, caste distinction, ideolo- 
gical and religious differences should be dispensed with and 
solid steps towards universal brotherhood should be taken. 
In this context one thinks that Tagore's novel Cora written 
eight decades ago perhaps remains the only post-modernist 
work of fiction in Bengali literature. 

5. The breakdown of the Soviet model of statist socialism is 
surely looming large in the consciousness of our young writers, 
yet it is much too recent an event to be manifested in their 
writings. It seems to me that the Bengali novelists are a bit 
slow in reacting to the contemporary political or social reality. 
They like to wait and let things calm down. Fictional works 
on terrorist movements before independence appeared long 
after the attainment of freedom. References to the Naxalite 
movement found place in Bengali fiction long after the turmoil 
ended in a fiasco. Most of the writers ofBengal do not believe 

184/INDIAN literature : 156 

in religious commitment. The lure of political power as distri- 
buted by the State hardly ever entices them. Therefore to 
overcome their sense of despair with the present state of affairs 
they would ultimately turn to themselves and to their 
long-cherished belief regarding the invincibility of the human 


1. Yes-it has enriched the human content of Indian Literature, 
by extending its themes to vital social problems, particularly 
pertaining to the underprivileged. 

2. Naturally, but not exactly because of the impact of formalism 
or modernism. In fact modernism is also becoming obsolete 
and there has been a new interest in Leftist ideology even in 
the sixties and after. In some cases political ideology failed 
to satisfy the total personality of the writer. In Tamil some 
Progressive writers turned to Freud and others to Vedanta, 
but there are writers in the eighties and nineties dealing with 
certain problems in the Progressive spirit. What about Dalit 
writing? May be Progressivism has felt the need to accept the 
Indian realities, and the Marxist model had to be translated 
into Indian terms since our class system is more social than 
economic. When Progressivism became dogmatic and purely 
propagandist and was not linked with the roots of creativity, 
it became another mechanistic movement. When Progres- 
sivism became another 'creed' and there was no dialectic 
interplay of social and aesthetic values, it is bound to be a 
devitalised programme. The social problems are still alive, 
though in slightly modified guise; only writers are not alive 
to those problems as much as they should be. In Tamil fiction, 
even today writers like Rajam Krishnan, Sivakami, Reg- 
unathan, Samuthiram, Mohammed Miran, Melanmai Pon- 
nusamy and Tilakavathy have a Progressive slant. 

K. chellappan/185 

3. (i) The very dichotomy is artificial. A good committed writer 

does not ignore form. He only says that the vision deter- 
mines the form, not vice versa. 

(ii) Political ideology is not commitment. May be a few writ- 
ers were concerned with ideas and ideology and not the 
human causes. 

(iii) But can literature be free from personal ideology or the 
class nature, though we should not equate one with the 
other. If any writer had equated them, then he has not 
been true to his creative self. 

4. The larger concern which you attribute to Postmodernist writ- 
ers is the right attitude. But I doubt whether all varieties of 
Postmodernism have such a larger concern. My definition of 
commitment would be sincerity as well as involvement in the 
process of maintaining and discovering certain values which 
are rooted in one's milieu though they may have larger reverb- 

5. Nornecessarily. Subramaniya Bharathi greeted the Russian 
Revolution, but said that this was caused by the glance of 
Parasakti (the cosmic power). He also writes about Mazzini 
and others. When the French Revolution failed, the still sad 
music of humanity deepened the vision of Wordsworth. A 
political collapse is not the end of everything. It is true that 
the Soviet Union provided the external prop to certain ideals, 
and most Progressive writers felt that they were involved in 
a larger world transformation process. But even now they 
can believe in Marx or rediscover him in their own tradition 
or in themselves, or better still in both simultaneously, but 
they should also creatively respond to the agony of Man in 
Africa and other parts of the world. Life is always greater than 
any dogma about it, and a writer must submit to the relentless 
flow of life. Even Bharathi gave importance to Parasakti which 
is only Life or Cosmic Energy and the Russian Revolution is 
only one of Life's great experiments. 

186 /indian literature ise 


T he progressive literary movement definitely has had a lasting 
impact on Indian Literature. ; 

The modern trends usually crop up to focus on a new idea. 
It may not be always necessarily progressive. Yet the universal 
pursuit of man for some sort of newness or thought-provoking 
idea to break the inertia has not come to an end. So, phrases 
like the "pre or post-modern”, phases are somewhat misleading. 

Yes! The issues raised by the early progressive writers have 
turned stale and obsolete. Hence the rise of the Modernist trends 
in regional literature (for example the 'Digambara Kavulu' move- 
ment in Telugu) became a historical necessity. The creative dyna- 
mism of the progressive writers in a way ignored the aesthetic 
innovation of the inevitable new generation. 

The definition of commitment is all pervasive. The real com- 
mitment of any writer for the human cause remains intact. If it 
excludes the readers' sensibility and their awareness of nature 
and man it meets its natural death! 

In the contemporary national and international context, the 
commitment is certainly broadened. The battle against the dis- 
crimination of I ace, gender and caste, ecological devastation, 
violence and war is part of this total social commitment of the 
writer. It cannot be evaded or buried under the so called indi- 
vidual philosophy of whatsoever clan! 

Now, the fashion of analysis for the new search has taken 
shelter under the garb of de-ideologisation. This isTeading most of 
the young writers towards anarchic tendencies. So, the lack of 
conviction of our younger writers is driving them to cynicism, for 
a while, in the changed international scenario, we can understand 
the scepticism but cannot justify the dehumanised approach. 

One has to essentially believe in the ultimate invincibility of 
the human spirit for the sustaining faith. Micro-movements may 
also help but not at the cost of the main stream struggles. The 


motivated diversions have to be checked in order to meet the 
new challenges thrown up by our times. Now, in the context of 
the Indian situation, the progressive literary movement has to 
break new grounds to look afresh and inspiring. The so called 
post-modernism is very minimal since the real modernism has 
not taken firm and solid roots in our ethos. 

bur own models of grass root level search as well as Peo- 
ples' struggles have to be enlightened through our own Indian 

Book Review 



G.N. De\ 7 , Bombay ; Orient Longman, pp. 147, Rs.l25. 

A t an Institute of Advanced Study seminar at Shimla in 1972, 
Nihar Ranjan Ray said : 

Let us Stan by doubting the contention that Indian Literature is one 
though written in different languages and by stating that the conten- 
tion cannot be maintained in the fullest sense. Literature is absolutely 
language-based, and language, being a cultural phenomenon, is 
all but wholly conditioned by its locale and the socio-historical 
forces that are in operation through the ages in that particular locale. 

Twenty years on, De\Y in his remarkable book affirms the same 
position more tersely and aggressively : 

The term “India" may be valid in the pages of an atlas, but as a 
cultural label it rs hopelessly inadequate and simplistic.... The term 


"India" as used within the pages of this essay presupposes no 
cultural unity or integration of the subcontinent. It is certainly more 
meaningful to speak in terms of specific linguistic traditions and 
regions than to speak of an imaginary Cultural unit and unity (pp. 


Towards the end of the book, explaining the concept of "Nati- 
vism" Devy emphasizes that 'it views literature as an activity 
taking place "within" a specific language, such as Marathi or 
Gujarati, and bound by the rules of discourse native to the lan- 
guage of its origin' (pp. 1 1 9-1 20). Nativism, first expounded and 
exemplified by Bhalchandra Nemade in his landmark essay on 
the Marathi novel in 1 980, is a mode of criticism based on a 
consciousness of the indigenous literary traditions of a particular 
language. According to Devy, a major damage done by^e colo- 
nia[_experience is the loss of~memory suffered,liy-T(Tie-litei:aEy 
traditions <^ev^y_modern Indian language. These are traditions 
~of~litefary’ practice rather than of literary theory and criticism, 
because during the early years of the growth of these languages, 
there was full-blooded development of creative writing but none 
of criticism or theory worth the name. With no critical heritage 
and with the past of each literature anterior to the colonial era 
having receded into oblivion, the space, according to Devy, was 
usurped by Sanskrit and Western literary theory. The re sult, on 
his showing, is that critics in th e lan guages today, suffer jfrdml a 
fe^mg rof ro ofle^ess. disconnection and disorientation, an 
absence of self-definition, a sense of crisis and an overall failure 
of nerve. The cure, as he sees it,- for this pathological condition 
, is historiograpjiy. He is critical of the existing literary histories in 
tReTanguages, at least those In Marathi and Gujarati which he 
knows at first hand, and he does not take any notice of the brief 
popular histories brought out by the Sahitya Akademi; apparently, 
he has in mind a different kind of historiography. He feels that 
the works of Indian literary historlanis~soTir~lTive "retained the 
general Indological framework" including its basic assumption 
that, as S.K. De puts it, 'the time of birth of modern Indian 
literature was' the first half of the nineteenth century' (p. 45). 
According to Devy, on|yj^tivi^ic history w hich will unveil the 
1 'PJ&colon]aljradjhons in ^cfiliterature can correct the present 
] malaise. It will esTabJish within each critic an awareness of the 

190/INDIAN literature ; 156 

true and full identity of his literature, a sense of continuity and 
a new self-confidence. And it will also ensure — if linguistic and 
literary diversity is recognized as a strength, not a liability — ^that 
a "modern Indian critical discourse" can be developed. 

' This is a summai^ statement, lailel7Tn~Tfiy~Wofds, of the 
main thesis of a tightly reasoned and richly documented 
You don't necessarily have to go along with its line of approach 
and its conclusions to realize the cogency and lucidity of the 
presentation. Always a point is driven home in vigorous and 
trenchant language and with a wealth of supporting evidence. 
And it is a measure of Devy's courage and intellectual honesty 
that he is prepared to go where his argument takes him, whatever 
the cost. The most impressive instance of this is his verdict on 
Sfr Aurobindo whose work he has studied devotedly over the 
years : 

In his poems like Ahana, he has celebrated bhakti; how is it then 
that in his criticism no trace of bhasa awareness is to be seen? The 
answer to this question can be had by considering Sri Aurobindo 
as a "colonial" critic, an enterprising intellectual belonging to a 
demoralized, amnesiac society-desperately trying to revive a culture 
almost gone to seed. His failure was inherent in the attempt to 
synthesize, in creating a pattern of collaboration where a confron- 
tation would have been fruitful, in accepting a framework of 
nationalism that was in essence colonial, and in becoming theore- 
tical where the need was to be historical (p. 116). 

The last few words are significant for a different reason. Devy 
is committed to studying a rather th an 
static, so that where the choice is between history and theory, 
he rejects the latter with a vehemence reminiscent oTJofinsOT's 
language. He speaks of the colonial compulsion to thSirize... 
(p. 121) 'The Indian obsession with literary theory can be com- 
pared, perhaps, with the Indian obsession with worship of a 
multitude of godheads' (p. 14). 'Most of the Indian critical talent 
has been wasted in pursuit of theory, much of which has been 
totally irrelevant to literature in India' (p. 1 06). 'In criticism, there- 
fore, modernism brought with it the trend of pseudo-theorizing, 
for most of it was theory based on alien theories without any 
relevance to Indian traditions' (p. 117). One may or may not 
assent to these judgements, but there is no missing the fact that 


the book itself is an impressive demonstration of the meaningful- 
ness of the historical approach. One of the most interesting pas- 
sages in the book is the brief survey of Sanskrit poetics as a 
cha nging tradition, which also s erves as notes towards _a social 
~ lT]storv of Sanskr it poetics. Equally intere^ng and original is the 
chapter in~vv^ich the conventional binary relationship — marga 
(mainstream/trad iti onal) and desi (regional/contemporaTyp=is 
enlarged into a triple struct ure with the colonial tradition as th e 
tnHxI'fnenibeL. His approach in the book is the sodaLblsioxian's. 
Although he is no Marxist critic, he acknowledgesdeterminism 
and describes literature and criticism as cultural phenomena 
moulded by social, economic and political forces. At times this 
is conveyed in arresting flashes. Thus he mentions the connection 
between didacticism and Ptolemiac cosmology, between expres- 
sionism and Newtonian physics, between the concept of the 
autonomy of literature'and pluralism in philosophy, between lite- 
rary criticism establishing itself as a subject and land ceiling acts 
in Britain, and between the growth of the c/es; tradition and the 
advent of Islam. 

Devy's exposition is designedly tendentious, provocative, 
polemical. It ought to give a new lease of life to several debates 
before they spend themselves out. Is it Indian literature or Indian 
literatures? is an integrated history of Indian literature a valid 
notion, or is the literature in each Indian language sui generis? 
Is the phrase "a common Indian poetic" question-begging? Is 
theory a waste of time? Is it 'unprofitable for Indian critics to 
relate themselves to either the Western or the Sanskrit tradition 
of criticism, or to any kind of combination of the two?' (p. 32). 
Here are a whole lot of hornets' nests. Devy's brilliant treatise 
may well prove an Important critical text initiating a §pell of 
productive controversy and perhaps lead to a comprehensive re- 
examination of the premises and methodologies of literary criti- 
cism in India. 





Dahake, Tr. Ranjit Hoskote & Mangesh Kulkarni, New Delhi Harper Collins, 
1992, Rs. 60. 

T his long sequence of poems is an ambitious attempt at fusing 
together the alien and the native mode of reflections on the 
sad state of affairs of the world where an angel costs four annas, 
a demon eight. 'Things fall apart and centre cannot hold" kind 
of a seering is not very rare to come across in the post-war poetry 
of the third world. What is interesting about "Yogabhrashta" is 
the creative exploitation of theTukaram tradition of confessional 
Marathi poetry for evoking existential snap-shots. 

The all-propounding "I" looks back to "song of MyselP', 
"Terrorism of Spirit in a remote city" is Kafkian and '"footfalls" 
echo "Four Quartets" but the central image of our racial ego as 
a seer fallen from grace (Yogabhrashta) is typically Indian. The 
very axis poem "A Terrorist of the Spirit", with its notion of suf- 
fering exile on a nameless road, is existential but the image-pattern 
through which this notion is brought home is classically Indian: 
"suffer in a tight kernel a thousand births of frogspawn, fishspawn, 
roaches' eggs". On the whole this longish poem offers us the 
flavour of a mixed fruit jam in an earthen vessel. 

In the history of all nations there is a time when people 
wander in body and spirit. This is the youth of the nation when 
all appear to be wanderers and migrants, and the force behind 


any kind of relevant writing is the acute and agonizing realization 
that all is not right with the world. All the writers that ever wrote, 
wrote under the intense pressure of the perception that things 
are going the wrong way. "Yogabhrashta" too has the percep- 
tion, the proper perception. What the poem lacks in is passion 
and coherence. 

The cold, rambling vision of this well-read man, Dahake, 
could definitely produce better poetry if he could hold himself 
a little. It would have been so good for the health of the poem 
if he could choose to be intense, precise and focal, and instead 
of sounding visionary would have sounded a fellow-sufferer. The 
pride to preside over the session and sound big eats him up. The 
Teressa complex eats him up — that complex of sounding a seer 
and taking all of us who suffer under wing. Making loud procla- 
mations, he sounds incorrigibly pompous "Come, all of you who 
suffer, all of you who grieve. Purify yourselves in the beatific 
glow of these supermen." 

The poem borrows idioms liberally from the world of sci- 
ence, technology, defence and philosophy. The kitchen and the 
animal kingdom contribute some concerete images to its other- 
wise fluid structure : 

"My field of vision 

has cracked like caked, baking earth" 

"castrated bull of my breath", eyes as "hunting dogs, keen on 
the trial", "merchants of evil", "shanty town of carrion crows", 
"god is a huge insect", "transparent jar of this century" and 
"universities (are) squalid slums of the mind, filled with fungoid, 
hominid furniture" ; these conceitful jerks are enough to make 
even a Donne sit up. 

Another distinguishing feature of the poem is that it seems 
to crack and explode under the strain of packing up the maximum 
of hints and visions, dreams and half-dreams, images and sym- 
bols, cautions and hopes, adjectives and hot action-words in a 
thin membrane. 

"Wrathful spirits burst out screeching... Mutinous, untrammel- 
led, hooligan souls. 

They wreak havoc, visit injury, spread famine and pesti- 
nence. Stip up revolt... 

194/INDIAN literature ; 156 

These lawless riotous spirits. 

They throw things out of joint, whip up hurly-burly.... 

The entire structure of society must be demolished. Before a 

new and better one could be built"... 

I am afraid, this would hold true to the poem also — "the 
entire structure must be demolished/Before a new and better one 
could be built." One only wishes more caution were taken at 
saving the poem from collapsing into a myriad of such loud, 
prosaic pronouncements. 

There is nothing particularly wrong about being a little loud 
but being loose and pompous and prosaic defeats the very pur- 
pose of poetry. There have been many a loud poet worth the 
name, but they have all had a firm sense of structure. Even the 
avant-garde stylists who function as a kind of aesthetic guerrilla 
do not let the form collapse into a heap. What puts Dahake how- 
ever, in a special sense beyond symbolism is an extra-ordinary 
conjunction of the visionary and the sense of concrete situation. 
He is haunted by the sound of events, objects, thoughts, his own 
inarticulate thoughts and the faintest signs which show where 
the sickness of the old world lay and the drama of the new one 
is enacted. If only he could be a little patient, his sparks would 
easily have blown into a constant flame. 

Now a word on translation. Jacqueline Risset, the French 
poet and translator of Dante, has described a good translator as 
both midwife and mother. As midwife, the translator delivers the 
foreign speech from its possibilities in the other speech. As mother 
she gives birth to the text in the other language. 

Dahake's translator is the mid-wife kind and he has a great 
fascination for big words. "Out of joint", "hurly-burly" and many 
such expressions underline him as a Shakespeare-enthusiast. 
Infact he suffers the fate of most academic translators. Their prob- 
lem is that they are like Pilates. They are always here and some- 
where else at the same time. "What is truth" said jesting Pilate, 
and would not stay for an answer, Pilate wants to serve both 
Christ and Caesar, so do the "scholarly" translators. They are 
too full of echoes to remain faithful to the original text at times. 
But, on the whole, the translation, reads well, atleast the flow is 
not hampered. 




A WHITENESS OF BONE, by Jayanta Mahapatra, New Delhi: Viking, 1992, 
pp. 70, Rs. 100. 

I NDETERMINACY has become the most defining experience of 
post-modern art. In the new quest for meaning and the desire 
to define the role of art, the artist has started not only to question 
the capacity of language to communicate but also the validity of 
art as a meaningful human vocation, lhah Hassan delves into 
Greek mythology in order to find nomenclature for the current 
western mode of narcissism in art. He calls this process as "Orphic 
Dismemberment" a form of art which contains its own denial. 

It is both ironical and a matter of hope that an Indian poet 
should tackle the very issues — in English which is still considered 
an alien language in some quarters in India— which has led to 
the ongoing Western atrophy, and still make a valid claim for 
poetry as a vocation. Jayanta Mahapatra in his new collection 
of poems does precisely that. His attempt is all the more ironical 
in the sense that the subject matter of his poetry — ^the Indian 
reality — is much more amorphous, riven with contradictions and 
elusive to any attempt at definition than a Western problematic. 
For here in India we live both ourselves and the Western "Other" 
because of the historical compulsions. It is a matter of great hope 
because the kind of felicity he attains in these poems, the effortless 
ease with which he translates the Indian reality into an interna- 
tional idiom, augurs well not only for Indian poetry in English, 

196/INDIAN literature : 156 

but also for the vocation of poets in general. 

The new-found transparence of these poems Gayanta Maha- 
patra is often accused of obscurity) is of course not to close one's 
eyes to the enormous task at hand. For to be hopeful in India at 
the present moment — in a country beset with millions of hungry 
people, ethnic violence of great magnitude and political chican- 
ery queering the pitch further — without sounding facetious, is 
extremely difficult ; 

and we have hung out 

the carcass of the past in the cross roads: 

our children keep seeing 

our fingers pulling shreds of meat from it. 

(Of Independence Day, P.54). 

The poems witness all these mutely and realise that they do 
not bring succour to those teeming millions, their language being 
a further handicap. The poet who is sensitive to their suffering is 
bound therefore, to question the efficacy of his own vocation. 
Poem after poem in this collection bring to the fore the poet's 
own impotence which resorts to "make" a poem when he is 
incapable of any other social action : 

“and my need to have you is only caught 
in the design of a poem I've been working on" 

(Another Autumn P.'6) 

In order to justify himself the poet takes a panoramic view 
of the history, myth and the complex cultural, context of his 
ancient land. The task of the traditional Kavi (Sanskrit for the 
poet) is to be a seer of truth and an illuminator of consciousness. 
For evil and suffering are as old as creation and there is no easy 
option out of it. As one of Singer's characters says "there can't 
be any answer of suffering — not for the sufferer" {Shosha, P. 
286). The poet therefore, has to discover the existential truth of 
human condition courageously and relate to it with a sense of 
compassion. Most of the poems in the collection are not only 
exercises in exorcism of the poet's own guilt; like Greek tragedy, 
their impact is cathartic, generating a sense of compassion in the 
readers ; 

D.B. pattanaik/1 97 


"There has always been starvation here, man; Yes we are used to 
it. This pain was new, one of the loose ends. And obviously sanity 
seems necessary." 

[Death of a Nameless Girl in Bhopal, December, 1984 p. 45) 

The third important theme of the poems in the collection is 
human memory itself. My favourite poem that has memory as a 
theme is "Unreal Country" where the poetic persona becomes 
the meeting ground of time past represented by the dead father 
and the future represented by the son, "searching for stars still". 
The present is caught between the past disappointments and 
future longings — a present which is "overwhelmed by the 

"In my eyes, hunger and earth 
made the bones of one's breath" (P. 4). 

The one particularly striking surreal image is that of the dead 
father ; 

"And through the dull suburbs 
of his death my old father 
gropes his way back." (P. 4) 

The poems in the collection will endure for the challenge 
they pose to our cultural moorings and the alternative they offer 
for a way of living. The challenge is for us to shed our apathy 
and broaden our consciousness. The time-tested Indian stoic and 
contemplative virtue of pity, compassion and endurance is offer- 
ed as a heroic alternative to the current Western actiop-ethic. 
The poems are a true reflection of the synthesis Mahapatra's own 
society is seeking through the contradictions which the forces of 
history have presented it with. 

Our Contributors 

Anamika: See JL Issue No. 153 

Bedar, Rajeshwar Sahai (b. 1924) 

Writes in Hindi and Urdu. 

Deshpande, L.S. 

Translates regularly from Marathi into English and vice 
versa; teaches English at Pratibha Niketan College in 
Nanded, Maharashtra. 

Duggal, K.S. (b. 1917) 

Leading novelist and short story writer in Punjabi; his 
book of short stories, IE Chhit Chanan Di, received Sahitya 
Akademi award in 1965. 

Hridvesh (b..l930) 

Hindi novelist, short story writer and playwright; winner 
of Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sansthan Awards for his novels, 
Safed Ghoda Eala Sawar and Saand. 


Leading Manipuri poet and a State Kala Akademi award 
winner; teaches Manipuri at G.P Women’s College, Imphal. 

Jayaprada, C.L.L. (b. 1954) 

Poet, fiction writer and translator in English and Telugu, 
KULKARNI, G.A. (1923-87) 

Well-known Marathi short story writer; Nila Sawal and 
Raktchandan won him the State Government award. 

KurOp, O.N.V. (b, 1931) 

Distinguished Malayalam poet; won several awards in- 
cluding Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for his AgnisaJa- 
bhangal in 1972 and Sahitya Akademi award for Aksharam 
in 1975; with more than twenty works of poetry. 

Laxmi Chandrashekar 

Translates from Kannada into English. 

Mahapatra, Jayanta : See IL Issue No. 155 

Mahapatra, Sitakant : See IL Issue No. 155 


Celebrated novelist and short story writer; received Jnan- 
pith award for his novel Mati Matala in 1964 and Sahitya 
Akademi award for his novel Amritara Santana in 1955; 
with 22 novels, eight story collections in addition to plays, 
poems, biographies and critical essays. 

Narayanan, Gomathi (b. 1934) 

A freelance writer. 

Ngangom, Robin S (b. 1959) 

Writes and translates in Manipuri and English; Editor of 
Lyric; published Words and Silence in 1988. 

Patil, Anand B. 

Critic and fiction writer in Marathi and English; author of 
Western Influence on Marathi Drama, 1818-1947: A Case 
Study; Reader in English, Goa University. 

Pattanaik, D.B. 

Critic in English. 

Perry, John Oliver 

Poet and critic in English; specialises in Indian English 
Criticism; Professor of English (Emeritus), Tufts Univer- 
sity, Medford, Boston; edited Voices of Emergency, four 
other books including Absent Authority. 


A respected name among the pioneers of modern Tamil 
short story; has also published a novelette and a collection 
of poems. 

Rajan, P.K. 

Teacher, researcher and critic in English; edits LITTCRIT 
a journal of criticism. 

Rao, Tarakarama (b. 1939) 

Novelist, playwright and short story writer in Telugu; with 
several published works; presently working as Assistant 
Director of Intermediate Education, Nampally, Hyderabad. 

Rayan, Krishna (b. 1918) 

Critic and Professor of English; author of Suggestion and 
Statement in Poetry; Text and Sub-Text, The Burning Bush; 
Sahitya : A Theory and numerous articles. 

Sarangi, Bansidhar 

Modem Oriya poet; widely translated into English. 
Shivaprakash, H.S. (b. 1954) 

Modem Kannada poet and playwright; translates from 
Kannada into English; Co-Editor of Aniketana. 


Professor of English, poet and critic in Malayalam with one 
collection of articles; has won Kerala Sahitya Akademi 
award for literary criticism (1992) 

Vaid, Krishna Baldkv : See IL Issue No. 154. 

Wagh, GirishV. 

Scholar and critic in English. 





SEP. -OCT. '95 

Editorial Board : 

U.R. Anantha Murthy 
Ramakanta Rath 
Indra Nath Choudhuri 

Editor : 

\ K. Satchidanandan 






Sahitya Akademi's Bi-monthly Journal 
No. t57 : Sepfember-October, 1993 
V 0 I.XXXVI, No. 5 

Cover Paintings by : 

1st Cover Anjolie Ela Menon 
Frenchman's House 
lind Cover Sarojpal Gogi 

Ilird Cover Madhavi Parekh 

Man running after animal 
IVth Cover Arpita Singh 

Flowers & Figures 
Editorial Office : 

Sahitya Akademi, Rabindra Bhavan, 

35, Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi-1 1 0001 . 
Articles in this journal do not necessarily 
reflect the views or policies of the Sahitya 
Akademi. All material is protected by 
copyright and cannot be used in any man- 
ner without the permission of the respec- 
tive authors and the Sahitya Akademi. 

Send your subscription to Sahitya Akademi, 
'Swati', MandirMarg, New Delhi 110001; 
Jeevan Tara Building, 4th Floor, 23A/44X, 
Diamond Harbour Road, Calcutta 700053; 

1 72, Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalya 
Marg, Dadar, Bombay 400014; 304-305 
Guna Building, Anna Salai, Teynampet, 
Madras 600018; ADA, Rangamandira, 
109, j.C. Road, Bangalore 560002. 

In India inclusive of mailing, single copy, 
fifteen rupees; one year (six issues) eighty 
rupees; three years (eighteen issues) two 
hundred and twenty rupee's. Abroad by 
airmail, single copy, seven dollars; one 
year (six issues) thirtyfive dollars; three 
years (eighteen issues) ninety US dollars. 

Edited by K. Satchidanandan and 
published by Indra Nath Choudhuri and . 
printed by him at Vimal Offset, 

1/11804 (A-26), Panchsheel Garden, 
Naveen Shahdara, Delhi-110032. 




Sugathakumari/1 1 
Aruna Dhere/1 5 
Anuradha PatiI/19 
Malika Amar Sheikh/22 
Rajani Parulekar/25 
Anuradha Mahapatra/28 
Vijaya Mukhopadhyay/30 
Manorama Mohapatra/33 
Pravasini Mohakud/36 
Sucheta Mishra/41 
M.R. Kamala/44 
B.T. Lalitha Nayak/49 
M. Anuradha/51 
E. Parvathi/53 
Sanskritirani Desai/54 
Anna Sujatha Mathai/56 
Neerada Suresh/60 
Rina Singh/62 


Sule Sankavva/73 

IN /^EMOR/AM : IS/^AT CHUGHTAI (1915-91)/75 
M, Asaduddin 
Alone on Slippery Terrain : 

Ismat Chughtai and Her Fiction/77 

Ismat Chughtai 
Touch Me Not/90 


Mahasveta Devi 
Kamala Das 
The Flight/1 1 5 
Binapani Mohanty 
Two Horizons/121 
Manorama Mathai 

A Headstrong Girl or The Story ofJingliben/126 
Vishwapriya L. Iyengar 
Cowribidhanoor/1 32 
R. Chudamani 

Two Women on an Evening/ 141 

The Brown Coat/ 148 
Devigramam/1 60 


Sukrita Paul Kumar 

Decoding Gender in Literary Texts/ 170 
R.K. Gupta 

Feminism and Modern Indian Literature/ 179 


P.P. Raveendran 
A Space of Her Own/190 



Inside: Paintings, Illustrations and Drawings by 
Usha Biswas, Hema Cuba, Kavita Nayar, 

Marie Dias Arora, Madhavi Parekh and Anuradha Nalapat 

So free am I, so gloriously free 

Free from three petty things 

From mortar, from pestle and from my twisted iord 

And all that has held me down 

Is hurled away 

— Mutta (Therigatha, 6th Cent. B.C.) 



H OW can the unexamined universalising discourse 
of a certain sort of feminism become useful for us? : 
this question by Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak [The 
Post-Colonial Critic] has found many echoes in the recent 
writings of feminists from non-European countries. The 
great European theories produce, often by way of 
literature, a colonial subject that inhabits a Third World' 
that again remains constituted by the intellectual 
practices of the hegemonic First World. The 
anti-theoretical postures of American feminists also end 
up reproducing the same kind of orientalism; their 
ignorance of their own theoiy does not make them 
more objective or less racist. We have a different history,- 
different ethos, different forms of social stratification and 
patriarchal domination and if we need a feminism specific 
to our social situation we also ought to develop a 
feminist llteraiy theoiy specific to our creative and critical 
situation by which is not meant an unconsidered 
abandonment of shared patterns of reading and writing. 

If the recent spurt in women's writing published in 
India represented in anthologies like Women Writing In 
India, Inner Courtyard, In Other Words, Inner Spaces, or 
Under the Silent Sun, In individual works by leading 
women writers and in the emergent writing in various 
periodicals is any pointer, we may safely say that we do 
now have a substantial body of women's literature the 

6/INDIAN literature ; 157 

roots of which go deep Into the past, to the devotional 
poets of the 12th-17th centuries, to the Tamil sangam 
women poets of the first three centuries before Christ, to 
the Pali songs of the Buddhist nuns of the 6th centuiy 
B.C. and to the folklore and tribal songs of India's earliest 
inhabitants. A lot of buried writing by women has also 
been excavated and retrieved from amnesia. At least 
some of the major women writers of the past and the 
present — from Mirabai to Mahasveta Devi — have been 
read closely from the perspective of women's expression 
and emancipation. The majority Is finding Its past as 
history is being deconstructed and reconstructed from 
the point of view of the gendered subaltern. The art as 
well as the literature — oral or written — of women often 
marginalised by the dominant male discourse has been 
brought to the fore. Women's magazines of yesteryears — 
like the Indian Ladles Magazine In English or 
Jaganmohinl in Tamil, hitherto neglected or forgotten, 
have begun to fascinate researchers, and popular novels 
written by women dumped in the baclQrards of the male 
canon of 'high literature' are being studied afresh as an 
alternate mode of genuine feminine expression. 
Autobiographies, memoirs and letters of women writers 
and activists are being systematically persued for hidden 
voices and feminine inscriptions. The gatekeepers of 
literary history have been kept on their heels as more 
and more graves are letting out their ghosts to claim 
their rightful place in the canonical preserves. Critics can 
no more complacently go on following patriarchal norms 
and values behind the facade of neutral universality. 
Gender has come to be recognised as a physiological, 
psychological and aesthetic really, though its 
relationship with other categories like class, caste and 
race is still problematic. Feminist literary criticism Is no 
more an empirical orphan in the theoretical storm as 
Elaine Showalter once qualified it. 

Feminist theory questions linear, hierarchical and 
teleological ways of thinking as do psychoanalysis and 

K. satchidanandan/7 

post-modern philosophy. As such, it is basjcaily jirltlcal of 
contemporar y Western cul turB'.and its beliefs concerning 
truth, knowledge, power, the self and larigUageTtlie' 
^rnad~wwrian has brok'^^oose7fonrth^~^ic”the 
specificity of the female imagination and the inscription 
of the female body in language have been recognised by 
the Marxist feminists who stress oppression as well as 
the psycho-analytic ones who emphasise suppression, 
eventhough it will be too simple to imagine that 
women's experience is directly available in women's 
texts sinM iangu^e isj n gt such a transparent m edium. 
Critics will have to be deconstr uctionists an d 
"myth-decIpfieTers, readers of silences and seers of_ 
absences, to get'atlhe reality In the text. The political 
economy orthelnascuIirT^and'bf the'femlnine, it Is 
known. Is organised by different requirements and 
constraints, which when socialised and metaphorized, 
produce signs, relationships of power, relationships of 
production and reproduction and an entire immense 
system of cultural inscription readable as masculine or 
feminine. Beyond this recognition however the 
generalisation stops as it comes to the specific forms of 
requirements and constraints and the patterns of the 
inscribed culture. This must be obvious even to casual 
readers of women's writings In India and in the West, for 
we come across few parallels not only to Akkamahadevi, 
Ratnabai, Janabai or Venkamamba but even to 
AshapurnadevI, Lalitambika Antarjanam, Qurratuiain 
Hyder or Ismat Chughtal In the West. If in the former 
group, it is a metaphysicai urge for transcendence that 
makes the difference. In the latter it Is a uniquely 
indigenous ethos, outlook and way of life that makes it. 
Again, the modes of patriarchal control and of the 
gender-based division of labour have been different in 
India especially in the regions with a matrilineal 
tradition. The pervasive presence of religion and caste in 
the everyday is another factor that overdetermines our 
sexual politics as well as our textual politics besides 

8/iNDIAN literature : 157 

of course our post-colonial situation that leaves Its stamp 
on every aspect of our existence. Our chequered history 
with its changing social, racial and ideological 
configurations has not been without its impact on the 
forms of feminine articulation: the^emp loyment of dialect s 
arid images of domesticity' in the quest for spiritual 
deliverance In the Bhaktl period, the tactical 
redeploymerit of dominant discourses to constitute a 
new, enlightened, middle-class female subject in the 
colonial reformist period and the creation of new 
enunclative modalities and rhetorical strategies to 
articulate the gender-class nexus In the post-colonial 
period, for example. Thus it will be simplistic to assume 
that the White, middle-class feminist theories of the West 
can ever explain Janabai's appeals to Vlthoba, 
Sumangaiamata's Buddhist serenity purged of all lust and 
hate, A/lahasveta's accounts of the tribal Jasoda or 
Oraupadi or Sugathakumari's Devaki dreaming In her 
prison of Krishna, the liberator. This is the context that 
should compel our readers and academics to rethink the 
norms and strategies of our feminist critical enterprise. □ 



We are getting several enquiries from the contributors 
regarding the publication of their articles. We regret our 
inability to respond to each of them personally. Advance 
copies of the journal will be sent to them as soon as the 
articles are published. Meanwhile they may write to us 
in case they want their contributions back. They will be 
returned promptly. 


Aruna Dhere 
Anuradha Patil 
Malika Amar Sheikh 
Rajani Parulekar 
Anuradha Mahapatra 
Vijaya Mukhopadhyay 
Manorama Mohapatra 
Pravasini Mohakud 
Sucheta Misra 
M.R. Kamala 
B.T. Lalitha Nayak 
M. Anuradha 
E. Parvathi 
Sanskritirani Desai 
Anna Sujatha Mathai 
Neerada Suresh 
Rina Singh 



It is dark. In this holy court-yard 
This tiny babe, I leave: 

The one of shameful birth, 

Take her in your protective hands! 

It is a girl. Yet I could not choke her to death. 
Pardon me. 

Give her too a comer 
In your vast lap. 

I have given her a bath in mother’s tears 
And breast-fed her for one last time 
And placed a kiss on her tiny forehead — 
Be it a mascot dot! 

And then O! Mother Earth! 

I am leaving in your furrows 
This orphaned kid. 

This poor little Sita. 

Will there be a dawn for her? 

A day? 

or is she to be crushed the very same night 
Between some sharp and cruel teeth? 

Tomorrow, Oh Tomorrow, 

Will she have a Morrow? 

12/iNDIAN literature : 157 

Girl this is, abanaoned on the day of birth 
A life for her? What strange hope! 

Will she ever know 
The meaning of Love? 

Which orphanage will shelter her — 
This faceless human kid? 

What destiny awaits her? 

Is she to be flown to an alien land 
And lain on the table in a Science lab 
To be the Indian Guinea-pig? 

Or will Luck favour her 
To be the darling of a home? 

Will she ever hear 
The foot-steps of Prince-Love? 

Who is there to save lakhs 
for a dowry for her? 

Who, to cover her in gold 
And make her a Bride of pride? 

Is she to be burnt alive 
Her crime, not fetching enough gold? 
or to be turned away 
With the ‘Word’ thrice uttered? 

Is she to labour from mom till night 
Only to be starved by degrees to death? 
Or to be beaten black and blue, 

A victim of senseless drunkenness? 

Is she to be auctioned in the market? 

Or be thrown into the Red street. 

Into the midst of 
Blood-sucking vampires? 


Is this hapless girl to be a sapless waste 
in the city drains 
Or to languish in the corridor 
Of a poorman’s hospital? 

Is she doomed to wander 
with a begging bowl to quench the innerfire? 
Is she not a girl 
Sorrow for her master? 

O Goddess Earth! You know all 
In your market, woman is 
The cheapest commodity 
A mere waste, simply thrown away. 

Yet, my precious jewel, 

Why do you stare thus 
Into my eyes, now smiling 
Now sobbing, reflective? 

Mother I am. I too was bom a girl 
And lived on 

Only as my poor mother lacked 
The courage to strangle me. 

All this is truth. And yet 
Let -me cherish a fond dream: 

The day will bloom into brightness 
And a Janaka will appear to claim my little Sita. 

In those benevolent hands will she blossom 
Into a flame of Purity 
That fire won’t bum. Never will 
This darling of Earth be exiled into the wild. 

She will work and live 
Work and raise lives 
She will hold aloft 
The golden flag of life. 

14/INDIAN literature : 157 

Never will she bend or bow her head 
Nor permit anyone to bow 
Stand she will on her own legs 
Her motherly face, all smiles and love. 

Flames of indomitable strength 
Embodied as children will follow her. 

A tower of strength she will be 
Where mother Earth will find solace 

Yes I dream. 1 do have a dream 
Even this girl deserves my dream — 
This orphan abandoned 
Among the share market’s shouts 

The night is draining off 
No time to linger on. 

A kiss on her forehead 
A final farewell kiss ... 

Never turn back. Run away. Run fast. 
No wailings. Let lips be tight 
Ears plugged and eyes dry. 

Draw the surging tears back inward 
Let no drops of love wet your breasts 
Blot them off. 

Let not the wounded breasts bleed 
And leave the stains. 

No turning back now. 

Run away, Run fast. Run. 

Translated from Malayalam by M. Leelavathy 




She starts her grinding as night expires 
and sings her sleepy kohl — dark ovi* 
to her god, the grinding stone. 

Her arm goes round n’ round, 
the flour pours n’ pours. 

Across her lap lies her sorrow, 
silent, sucking its fist. 

Whatever she’s desired, she sweeps it ever aside 
For her home and her yard, 
the woman releases her mind. 

Life calls out to her, on this side and that, 

Yet each day is spent denying all that. 

At dusk the mother lifts the waterpot to her head, 
and carries the burden of her young ones and beloved. 
Pot on pot on her head, she nears the watershed 
Nay, not the watershed, she enters 
her childhood home instead. 

Slowly stirs the water, the dream sinks and sinks 
As the moon enters the dream. 

* ovi — a couplet frequently used by Maharashtrian women to express their emo- 
tions while they carry out their daily tasks such as grinding. The original Marathi 
poem is written in this folk metre. 

16/INDIAN literature ; 157 

the woman asks for death 
Day by day she asks for death. 

Translated from Marathi by Vidyut Aklujkar 


Come ... 

Please do come. 

Don’t retreat, lonely and melancholy 
like a defeated warrior. 

Do you really think 
that the battle is over? 

What they beheaded, calling sin 
was so serene 

they danced flashing their swords and daggers, 
shouted triumphantly and went away. 
Justice wasn’t with them, victory wasn’t 
really theirs 

And truth was all the way trembling 
here, with meek, innocent eyes 
like a carrying cow. 

Come on, 

let me wipe your blood, nurse your wounds. 
At least drink this mouthful of water I have. 
Don’t suspect me. 1 am not committed to 
any one of them. 

This little greenery is my own terrain 
Much has faded out from here and 
within me too, 

but the remains have flourished on earth. 

If you want a promise of eternity, 
close your eyes. 


recollect the eyes of that meek cow, 

Don’t be sad and lonely. 

This battle is more difficult, 
the battle of love and hate, 
of creation and death. 

Dive in, don’t hesitate. 



Where have you taken shelter, 
abandoning my words? 

I see enchanting youthfulness 
in a Sawashnai woman. 

Are you there, filling her ghata^ to the brim? 

I see something sprouting from beneath the soil; 
Were you flung down from a plough 
to sprout up thence? 

May be, you are blowing like wind 
over the dreams of all the virtuous 
or perhaps flowing in the veins 
of some prophet 
like eternal sorrow 

I won’t ask 

why you abandoned my words 
so casually. 

But if I find you 
lying with closed fists 

1. ‘Sawashna’ — ‘Suvasini’/Married chaste woman. 

2. ‘ghata’ — An earthen pot used to contain sacred water. 

18/INDIAN literature : 157 

in some intensely vacant womb 
I will dedicate all my hapless words 
to that carrying woman and would even offer 
my haunted self to her. 

Where have you really found shelter, 
Speak out please! 

Translated from Marathi by Narendra Bodke 




Embracing disastrous paths we have moved on swallowing every 


The dissembled lines on the palm were not decisive for us 
Indigo, sad notes have blossomed all the space around 
Couldn’t reach the bank even after turning back on substantial 


Grief brims at footsteps, distant lights brighten up 
Touch, pulses accompany somebody on the paths leading 


Who was I waiting for at every turn loosing horizons 
Why has the music of the unknown become refractory? 

The clouds are erased as emotions pent up 
You are still indigo though the rains have abated 
You sink in the eyes like sprouting dreams. 

Every direction is illuminated, sky full of rains 
The meaning of wandering is clarified as the storms in the mind 


The roots go deeper into the earth, like you in me. 


Many a times have I stopped 
At your enigmatic questions 
So don’t tell me that people 

20/iNDIAN literature : 157 

Change because of this. 

Perhaps I haven’t repaid obligations 
Of any of your moments 
But let me weep for a while today 
Let these lines you wrote 
For my sake be erased 
Living anew may be easier 
But sorrows are always one’s own 
Let me join once again 
The snapped relationship. 


The sound of distant rain 
frozen mind bums 
My calls are wet 
the clouds dissolve in the air 

The sound of distant rain 
My felicitations end 
the rain has crippled my life 

The sound of distant rain 
the yard is empty 
who should weep at my sides 
my bangles jingle 

Somewhere sounds the rain 
eyes brimmed with insateity 
My spent grief awaits at the loyal doors. 


I would have forgotten 


That brighten the darkness 
And would have erased 

Shadows of words from the page 
But you still belong 
So much to me 
That 1 don’t feel like talking 
About you 
Except in the poem. 

Translated from Marathi by Santoshkumar Bhoomkar 





A few tall buildings 
A few women barely clad 
A few naked men 
A few lonely islands of stomachs 
A few machines devouring men 
A bit of a man eating up men 
What else is a metropolis? 


The bread is gathering mould 
The shoes are getting so.aked in water 
The chap in front is talking endlessly 
‘Life is a myth of existence’ 

After years, I hear the human voice 
Which sounds exactly like rusted tin 
People stand stay-put even now 
As if they’ve cursed each other 

The sea smells like burnt bread 
The sound of uncertainty 
Calls out to the water, from afar 


Blind centuries from the future 
eating carrots 

are moving to attack the city 
Need I await orders even now? 


A whole woman 

With the womb a whole season of rain 
a whole season of heat 
a sky and a shore 
In her breasts and thighs 
You seek the meaning of the world 
Or answers to your questions 
Or a bit of relaxation or a change 
Wife, mistress, and prostitute 
What’s the difference? 

Only numbers ... 

But surely the three have something beyond the body 
which you sense yet reject 

Does the bed answer all the questions? 

Or is it merely a reflex? 

You make love, and then you sleep turning your back 
not caring who’s beside you 
a woman or a graveyard or dung 
I’m painfully surprised 
you can still talk of poetry 
This wordy living 
These false crowns 
These toys of sentiments 
How long would these help? 

Taking a turn round a woman’s thighs 
Your boats unfurling their sails 
move towards a destination 
Flourishing the hankies of wombs they whisper 

24/INDIAN literature : 157 

‘Let the poor one reach his island’ 

And then they turn into the third shore 
Or the horizon or the bird on the mast 
At times you perch on their nipples 
And shout ‘America!’ ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ 

The rising sea of her hair 
You spread your bodies on her lips, lashes to dry 
Warming fires of delicious crisp polemics 
You’re deeply moved, happy, fulfilled. 

I never claimed that a woman was god 
But to cover yourself with her 
is necessary for your half-naked bodies. 

Translated from Marathi by Ravindra Kimbahund 




I felt that you would depart 
Throwing me a derisive glance 
And you did the same thing at first 
Yet ... I went on standing there 
on that open pasture 
Rubbing my eyes 
Since the dust of good and bad 
Opinions about you 
Had settled in my eyes 
I went on standing there 

In your gait there was insolent recklessness 
And in every foot print of yours stamped on the earth 
was imprinted the question, 

“Do I hanker after women?” 

A question that pesters you 

You turned back and threw a glance for no reason 
As one on the mountain 
Does at the dot of a man in the valley 
But in a fraction of a second 
My eyes wonder-filled curious, 

Embraced your heart 
My eyes hunting for the answer 
To that question of yours 
Imprinted on the earth 
and you happened to narrate that day 
The tale of your tormented mind 

26/iNDIAN literature : 157 

You held my hand in yours with reassurance 
I felt then as one would 
Looking at the lush green Beauty of Nature 
After a torrential shower 

That moment in the passage of time 
Imprinted on my palm 
Is just the same — even today 
It is commingled with the complex 
Network of the lines on my palm 
I can see it but sometimes 
In the sadness of twilight 
I can see it as one would 
The stream of blood in the palm 
When held against the sun 
And I feel I should not — I need not 
Paint my palm anymore with mehandi 


A tree in the woods is hacked 
Its branch breaking away 
what do the halves 
whisper to each other? 

Do they moan^and groan 
In the heart of their hearts? 

And do these logs driven from each other 

Do they remember how the wind tossed them? 
How they got drenched in the rain? 

And the blossoms in the spring 
And the fall in autumn? 

Oh! but the wind knows. 

The wind blowing with a din 
In places forlorn 
Sings 'such songs 


Those songs not all could praise 
Many a man is blunt, so blunt, 

He doesn’t even sense 
The agonies caught 
Even in simple words! 

What then of these songs 
They are just sounds 

Such sounds as would be choked to death 
If confined in the strokes and coils of script. 


Treading this tranquil vista with no soul on it, 

I notice on either side 
The platoons of trees withdrawn 
And underneath are resting strewn and scattered 
The red and the yellow petals of Gulmohur. 

They appear like the reddish yellow seeds of red dry chillies 
Chillies being pounded — seeds strewn around 
And the fragments of sunrays reflected from the panes of 


Houses estranged. 

How they look like shafts of rays reflected from the mirrors 

into the eyes 

And at the far end of the vista — a lake 
That preserves the serene, compassionate firmament 
In the heart of its hearts. 

And there now I am — at rest, at the edge of the lake 
At this very moment the forest-fire of all relationships 
Remains put out, calm ash, 

— at least for me. 

Translated from Meirathi by Suhas Sooryakant Limaye 




Like a heron she swam the paddy field. Now, 
wearing white rice sheaves, the girl about to fall 
thinks like a cow. A hornet comes flying 
and lands on the burnt pitcher. At noon on the dot 
a trance descends along the acacia forest path. 

Sometimes she hefts the bundle of unhusked rice sheaves 
onto her head, checks the water level 
in the rough pitcher, gives starch 
to the wretched dog and barren cow. Squatting, 
she buries her face in the hay. In the distance 
the chapped skin of city wives’ feet 
mingles with the chapped soil. Jackals howl 
at the hour the cows come home, the girl reads 
the Gita, even before the shrikhol-dmm 
and one-stringed lute can play. Like a heron 
she swims the white field to the village of Rakminipur. 

A blanket of ripe blackberries is spread out 
in the empty courtyard, and in the turmeric forest 
the girl from an ancient time turns into 
the blind grandmother. She doesn’t know a thing 
about science, but still she sets the sweetpea flowers 
on the sunlit roof. It’s known that the cow is old, 
but as evening deepens, cow and grandmother quiet 
each other in the grass, among the grasses’ song. 


In niral areeis it is still the custom to read passages from the 
Bhagauad Gita to musical accompaniment. 

Translated from Bengali by Paramita Banetjee and Carolyne Wright 



I have not seen God. 

The minute I see temples 
I think of God in His beastly incarnation. 

When I see an image worshipped 
I know the daughter of the house 
will be sold for cash exchanging 
one pale life for another. 

This is the final joke, to see blood 
coughed out of the mouths of those 
whose blood Is gone. 

Still, when I saw that young man 
in the blue-black knit shirt on the tram — 
dark, strong, straight as a cast-iron 
cannon — I wonder what would have happened 
if he were God? At least I’d have gotten 
some small patch of shelter. 

I could have pushed him, and if 
he’d been run over, if I’d made him die, 
it might have been love. 

Nowadays when I put my foot 
on the running board of a bus 
I think of God. 

Translated from Bengali by JyoHnmoy Datta and Carolyne Wright • 




You belong to pre-history 

In between stretch prolonged despair, mourning in the dark 

Are you tuning-in, Gargi? 

So far away, yet I reach out 
To you, intrepid daughter of Bachaknu 

You must have come across envious female taunts 
Men, the racist lot have left me out. 

They did not take kindly to you either. 

It is two after mid night. High time. 

Come take my hand 

Let the Milky ways register this temporary truce 
Patient palm leaves are better left to bum. 

The fire you had kept so tightly guarded 
now opens up before me 
Did Yajnavalkya mean anything to you 
The cattle-greedy Brahmin leader? 

Did he chance to touch you by the little finger of the left hand 
A garland exuding contempt all the while? 

If the pole-star can move you too can. 

Enter then as fire, water, air, earth. 

Like lightning, as eternal, unrivalled 
Me, alone among sparkling men 

VIjAYA mukhopadhyay/31 

Is not really me but you 
The only one men are eternally 
afraid of. 


You have not been given 
the charge to solve the worlds’ problems, 

Do you understand, Puti? 

Will India make the bomb 
When is the U.S. leaving Vietnam 
It is essential to collect signatures against automation 
These are not for you to split hair about. 

For you the afternoon bath, the doing up of hair 
Adding the sticky hair oil 
Pearl powder, a gift from mashi 
touched lightly over the face. 

A dot on the forehead 
made of burnt paper 
Stick a bunch of flower in the hair 
Wrap a dark green sari 
It looks nice on you in 
the rainy season. 

Puti for heaven’s sake I can’t stand 
your glum face at your age 
You do make a lot of fuss 
What do you understand of Woolf 
The Beijing Purge doesn’t make | 
the slightest difference to v/ou. 

Get organised to set up home 
Roll the lamp wicks 

You have to raise children 
It hardly becomes you to frisk about so. 

32/INDIAN literature,: 157 


I came home but only to find that 
my home wasn’t where it should have been. 
Only a big door 

and a couple of cheeky windows 

Who are you looking for? 

Well, let me think who it 
could be after all. 

An empty house, from which 
the home was gone. 

Perched on a wooden chair 
Like a tenant 
or an unwanted guest 
I begin to understand 
uncertain, weak in the legs 
All by myself 
From my own home the 
home was gone. 

Translated from Bengali by Enakshi Chatterjee 




As soon as 

The cataract dropped off my eyes 
I felt something did melt 
Within me; the mist that shrouded me 
For fourteen years did vanish 
The moment I beheld 
The light of the Sun. 

Known, yet unknowable was he for me 
And tempted was I to amaze 
Ayodhya with my maze 
of hypocrisy intimately ablaze. 

Here he stands once again 
Before me; having as I do inside 
How can I greet him 
And say — ^you are my friend 
My only companion for ages 
I’m the eternal feminine 
The ‘She’ 

And you are He. 

The chasm between you and me 
Is a creation of Time’s cruelty. 

Now do I understand 
The tricks of Time 
As I repent 
But who can tell me 
What is my atonement? 

You are the Beautiful 


The symbol of dignity 
I, Manthara, 

Have been reduced 
To a dead mass of flesh 
of painful vanity. 

Shouldering the world’s blame 
And waiting to be aflame 
By the fire of your majestic frame. 


The touch of no one’s holy feet 
Does she need any longer 
She shall manifest herself 
Now by her own will 
By her own life’s thrill. 

She shall emerge once again 
From out of stone 
Her commanding presence 
Demanding the world’s admiration! 

She ... the daughter 
of the golden-wombed Mother Earth. 

From within her 

Shall sprout the light of intuition 
And she will be the ruling divinity 

Of a world 

Shaped of its own accord! 

No malediction 
Can any longer 
Shake her aspirations. 

No witchcraft 
Can any longer 



The transcendent cosmos — 
That’s her own design! 

She is what she is! Herself 
Her Time present 
Her Time future; 

She manifests now 
To fulfil herself. 

She needs the touch 
Of no holy feet 
Any longer! 

Translated from Oriya by Brajakishore Das 




Why didn’t you kill me that very day, father 
With your double-barrelled shotgun? 

Why didn’t you pull the trigger? 

That day, the first time that I disobeyed you. 
Talked back to you with bitter words? 

I never had the confidence 
To stand up to you. 

The more you showed your love for me, the more 
I hurt you. Why is that? 

You’ve never slighted 
My little whims, my wishes. 

Never have you forced on me 
The red whip of your will 
You always have been lenient 
So perhaps that’s why I’ve done 
Whatever I have wanted, for so long 
In the green forests of your trust 
I’m an unwanted seedling. 

And still cannot understand the reason why 
Daughters such as I 
With fathers such as you before them 
Commit such wrongs. 



Here I am, waiting for you like this 
Not knowing which way to turn. 

I don’t know how long I’ll stay this way. 
Except for your address, 

Except for the pain of our first meeting. 
You left nothing behind. 

Not anything from which I could discover 
Over and over again 
The greatest gift of life. 

Here I am, flashing on and off, off and on, 

A hundred-watt bulb of self-confidence 
In the irritation of a power failure 
In an inward-gazing gray sorrow 
All alone in a hazy solitude. 

Not for a moment did 1 ask for a promise 
Nor did you give any 
Rainbows and moonlight. 

Who doesn’t need them? 

But I can find my way 
Through rain and moonless night. 

All these days, for this alone 
I waited for your call. 

Millions of times 
I’ve come face to face with you 
On another blue planet 
The core of your being 
Radiating a divine light. 

I’m covered in a rosy sweat 
Of anticipation and excitement. 

Year after year. 

38/INDIAN literature ; 157 

My confidence in meeting you even once 
Secretly kept growing. 

Today, without conditions, 
Without hesitations. 

My entire past present future 
My complete incompleteness 
And the inner conflict 
Of desire and passion, yes and no — 

These, I stand ready 
To dedicate to you. 


Before anyone comes, I will return 
As the daybreak, as a garland of dewdrops. 
To morning’s first step I will come 
On gentle feet 

Restless with impatience, to the waiting earth. 
To light I move from darkness 
I want to be the light. 

Before anyone comes 
I want to be a voice lost 
In the chirping of the birds 
Wipe the sun’s scent from their wings 
Drench them 
In a bouquet of blessings. 

Let’s see it, just like that I can beat my wings 
I am a lonely bird flying the empty blue skies. 
Making no conditions, ready — 

I declare my presence. 

Before anyone comes 
I am willing to be a river. 


To quench the thirst of the entire world 
Willing to be a tiny stream 
In fields green with paddy 
Where the farmer's whole year of dreams 
Is suspended searching the sky. 

If another Buddha were to descend, 
Releasing a thousand doves of peace 
From the cruel hands of a barbarous Ashok, 
Proclaiming love from his pitiless heart 
In the place of war, 

I might become the banks of the river Niranjana, 
The shadow of the Bodhi tree. 

Before anyone comes, 

I am willing to be a torch 
If the coming morning’s path ahead is brightened 
By erasing miles and miles of darkness. 

From this time on, 

I might become a seedling. 

If some years from now, of even a single wayfarer. 
My shadow might ease the weariness. 

I might spin a cocoon 
Before anyone comes. 

And after a few days, become a beautiful butterfly 
If children in a future garden 
Run to catch me on their tiny feet. 
Drowning the cackle of birds with their sweet babble. 
I might become a kite 
To be flown through azure skies. 

I might become a flower. 

In the garden of time, the whole year long. 
Become its pollen, become the fragrance 
In its honeyed petals. 

Before anyone comes, 

I might become a canvas. 

40/INDIAN literature : 157 

There’ll come an artist who will paint on me 
With all the colours of his heart 
The greatest picture of the 21st century. 
Become a mountain of words, 

An ever ending stream of passion 
For some poet-storyteller who will write 
Life’s epic. 

Before anyone comes 
I might become Mother Mary or Devaki 
And offer the gift of Jesus and Krishna 
To the world. 

I might become a sky 
Without the threat of star wars 
Stronger than a thunderbolt. 

For that man suffering in disease and pain, 

I might become a honeyed, gentle touch. 
Wherever I am. 

No matter how far away. 

I’ll return, 

A dream of the future. 

Translated from Oriya by J.P. Das and Arlene Zide 




So many things 

have not been recovered as yet 
from the bowels of the earth 
Many many warm breaths, jewellery 
of bone, and letters carved in rock. 

Images of so many scenes 
have not been caught as yet 
in the mirrors of words. 

And in a moment of courageous humanity, 
with the cries of earth and planets, 

I live on ... 

The search for something goes on 
When it is found, the artist sets his tune, 
the poet too builds his love. 

This is a grave time for us all 
I don’t read the newspapers now 
Unfortunate are tales of those 
who sit with feet stretched on ancient monuments 
I don’t wish to hear of tears, of hate, anger and despair 
A smell of something rotting comes floating in the air 
And it makes the afternoons sorrowful as evenings 
and the evenings darker than nights. 

Men soaked in sunlight and disappointment 
search for something ; 
is it care and rest? 

42/INDIAN literature ; 157 

And here, on the riverbank today 
lie empty the full shadows of many trees. 


How a Konarka of words is being built 
in silence, with the sharp chisels 
of twelve hundred experiences. 

A man comes down, quietly, 
moving from one man to another, 
from sky to earth, 
from an eternally green valley 
to a merciless Sahara. 

How he can live, in an unreal world, 
losing his identity 

How he can touch, these hearts all alone, 
concealing his pain 
Stretching out his hands 
eagerly for the fall of a star 
How he returns each time 
distributing his letters, a postman — 

But look, how time has gone! 

And no one has cared to know him! 

He is no Tathagata, that he would 
leave the palace of Lumbini 
No god either, so you would break his limbs 
and enclose him in a wall of stone 
He is not merely a monsoon cloud, 
heavy with the weight of grief. 

He is the all-encompassing sky 
where the moon and stars are, 
and light, and holy ash; 
yet, is lonely in every way. 


But ay, have you seen anywhere 
a person as alone as the sky? 

Note : The 13th century temple of Konarka was built by 1200 artisans 


How you place with care 
A vase in some comer 

A photograph in a frame somewhere 
Think of the grime piled in someone’s room 
How you plant a seedling by the window 
and wait for it to flower. 

This isn’t your home 

Wherever you go, there will be a single season 
And flowers in just two colours will bloom 
like your good fortune and your bad — 
And like your stray duties 
that season will stretch on, 
till the moment you cease to exist. 

And here, without anybody’s touch, 
flower after flower 
will fall by the window — 

At times like your dreams 
At times like tears. 

Translated from Oriya by Jayanta Mahapatra 


42/INDIAN literature 1S7 

And here, on the riverbank today 
lie empty the full shadows of many trees. 


How a Konarka of words is being built 
in silence, with the sharp chisels 
of twelve hundred experiences. 

A man comes down, quietly, 
moving from one man to another, 
from sky to earth, 
from an eternally green valley 
to a merciless Sahara. 

How he can live, in an unreal world, 
losing his identity 

How he can touch, these hearts all alone, 
concealing his pain 
Stretching out his hands 
eagerly for the fall of a star 
How he returns each time 
distributing his letters, a postman — 

But look, how time has gone! 

And no one has cared to know him! 

He is no Tathagata, that he would 
leave the palace of Lumbini 
No god either, so you would break his limbs 
and enclose him in a wall of stone 
He is not merely a monsoon cloud, 
heavy with the weight of grief. 

He is the all-encompassing sky 
where the moon and stars are, 
and light, and holy ash; 
yet, is lonely in every way. 



Once a year 

When some festival is in the offing 
The .millers at Garden* 

Stick discount labels 
On tom-off old saris 
and keep dreams for sale. 

They build a fairy land 
In the hearts of middle class women. 

When you enter this ‘garden’ 

You see 

Flowers of different kinds and colours 
Blue sky 
Silvery cloud 
Star-like stickers 
Rowing waters 
Roaring waterfalls 
They stjck illusory wings 
On every wonder of nature. 

Letting down 

Their sari pleats dangle, spread freely 

famous textile company 

M.R. kamala/45 

In tight churidars 
TV announcers 

The intellectuals of Kalakshetra 
— all embrace these heaps of saris 

They let themselves 

In the ocean of colours 
Rise and float 
Despite the blazing sun 
The flowing sweat. 

They pour out the money 
They collected all year 

Buy their dreams 

Surpassing even triumphant emperors 
Their eyes become 

Batteries of lightning 
Reflecting the fulfilment 
Of their lives. 

Translated from Kannada by Sandhya S. and Arlene Zide 




My father — 

The new sun at dawn 
The spring that flows down the hillock 
The sky 

That does not give in 
To wind, rain, or sun. 

He sows his crops 
Summons the rains 
Wipes the sticky lamps. 

When he turns wild 
He is the fire in the seas. 

For my sake 
He carries the basket 
Of new desires and dreams 

Lets the moonlight flow 
From his burning heart. 

I am a small part of him 
A line 

Of dreams and imagination, 

A drop of blood. 

And, in the end, 

Shall I tell you something else? 


He is the bridge 

Myself and the world outside. 


In every nook and cranny 
Of the desolate houses 
Through open spaces full of moonlight 
By the sides of idle trees and bushes 
Exposed to the afternoon blaze 
Along long roads tarred black 
Death roves. 

Rushes away 
Hides in the earth. 


In the anxious face of the doctor 
In the bottles of blood 
In the footsteps of the nurses 
In the silence of the room 
In the anxious eyes of my people around me 

I see death. 

It flows 

Through the veins 
Throbs with pain 

It couldn’t frighten me 
It couldn’t unbalance me 

48/INDIAN literature : 157 

I saw it 
Just as it had come 

I can see it 

Jn the faces of the people 
Around me 
Sighing with relief. 

Translated frorn Kannada by Sandhya S. and Arlene Zide 




O you parrot 
In man’s cage 

Do you know 
Of the forests, 

The skies outside? 

Do you know of 
The light in the East 
The ocean in the West 
The birds in flight? 

The songs and rhythms 
The dances 
The fresh air, light 
New directions? 

The depths below 
The peaks above 

The world of the moon higher above? 

The mangoes 
The berries 
The vultures 
The greedy wild cats 


With your wings? 

50/INDIAN literature : 157 


O Protectors of the people 
Who serve the nation 
By clinging to your chairs 
Amidst a welter of noise 

Do listen to our humble request — 

Discard your costumes and your masks 
Let us see your real faces 

We have taken oaths 
To show our children 
Naraka, Taraka, and Baka* 
of the Puranas 
In their true colors. 

* Names of demons 

Translated from Kannada by Sandhya S. and Arlene Zide 




Don’t you pierce the earth 
with a plough share? 

I look helplessly at forests 
full of melting tears in eyes. 

1 also remember how, 
covered by sheets 
I wept, sleepless 

when my drunken father beat my mother, 
how the next day 
my mother flowered again 
even at the touch of a smile. 

Now, after twentytwo years 
agony is a burning red flame. 

This I knew 

when one night he told me 
he would marry another woman. 

My heart gets lost 
in the childhood-waves 
that also carried Vemana’s verses. 
Half-misery from those who gave birth to me, 
half-misery from those 1 gave birth. 

What remains is a mere stump. 

All that 1 asked for is 
to run like a child into a brilliant dawn, 
to fly like a bird triumphant in the sky 
to hide a Bismillakhan’s shehnai in my inner recesses. 
But they say: 

52/INDIAN literature ; 157 

‘You are a woman 
and where is the need for a heart? 
Suffice if you live in your body.’ 
Though meant for cutting vegetables, 
mind you, 

I do have a knife with me. 
Translated from Telugu by K. Damodar Rao 




What’s this life, 

an animal fares better than me. 

I asked the caterpillar on the wall 
•to live my life for a few days. 

It replied it can’t carry 
more drabness on its back. 

I enquired the donkey 
on the road. 

It said it didn’t have enough patience 
to carry such loads. 

And then I heard the dog 
responding to my entreaties: 

‘I am a dog but can’t be 
more faithful— 
they commit outrages 
on their own life-line of love 
I can’t live together with 
such thankless creatures. 

Translated from Telugu by K. Damodar Rao 




There is a large graveyard within me, 

And each day I bury many events in it. 


On some lonely night. 

When it is absolutely quiet in the graveyard, 

A grave opens. 

And I watch it in the dim moonlight. 

Something comes out of the grave and acts out its part ... 

I watch it intently without blinking. 

After finishing its role, it goes back into the grave; 

I continue sitting there 
Waiting for another ac<^ 

The day breaks, and I have no choice but to bury new events, 
And every night I sit 
In the graveyard of my memories. 


As it becomes dark. 
From the caverns of the mind 
Sneak outlaw thoughts, 
And go about their outlawry. 


If someone is strolling alone, 

They loot the poor chap, 

And if he confronts them 
They kill him. 

Yes, if they find someone intelligent and fearless 
Then somehow they try to persuade him 
To join their gang, 

And make their group stronger. 

Actually, I want to put up streetlights. 

And reduce the strength of the outlaws. 

The streetlights are now put up even beyond the 

outskirts of the town. 

But deep are the caverns of the mind, 

And it is not possible to put up streetlights till the end. 

The power of the outlaws is increasing now. 

Their gang attacks even where there are streetlights. 
They loot not just lonely people but groups of five or seven. 
Something will need to be done now 
Against these outlaws 
On a war footing! 

Translated from Gujarati by the Poet 




She walked out of the early dawn 
Into the twentieth century. 

She had not known 
The sickness of the years between — 

She is Venus rising from the foam 
She is Parvati pleading with Shiva 
For recognition of her womanliness— 

She is Draupadi and Damayanti 
And she is the Magdalene 
Whose beautiful hair 
Fell upon Christ’s feet 
In the rnoment of adoration. 

She is Sita surviving 
The ordeal of fire 
She is Cassandra and Electra 
She is Cleopatra with immortal longings 
She has been called saint 
She has been called sinner and temptress 
She has walked the earth a thousand years and more. 
Today she cries for liberation 
And they stone her. 

She carries the womb of the world within her. 

She is the infinite spirit of woman 
Yearning towards her destiny, 

Playing a little while along the way, 

Tasting the erotic ecstasies of Khajuraho and Ajanta 
But moving always under columns of sunlight 


And in the darkness of the mountain, 

Towards her own mysterious other self 
So that she may contain all these 
that are within her 

And regain her pagan innocence and splendour. 

Yes, for centuries we’ve been mute. 

Not that we’re dumb, or our 
tongues had been cut out. Not 
quite. We could prattle alright: 

about recipes, about dust, 
about our neighbour’s daughter, 
about our clothes, secrets about 
how to stay beautiful, how to 
stay young. We knew nursery 
rhymes which we prattled to our 
children, but never the dark 
interiors of those stories, those 
lay shrouded in sleep like the 
Sleeping Beauty. Yes, we were 
sleeping beauties, baby dolls, 
we slept while our children 
were taken from us, our names 
taken from us, we smiled while 
others filled in forms for us, 
others made laws which ruled our lives. 

Yes, we were dumb. 

Except when we cried, which 
was often. When we were ravished 
as young girls, by strange brutal men. 

When we bore children, and delivered them, 
in the agony of childbirth. When our husbands, 
and our fathers, our brothers and our sons, 
and even our lovers, if we dared to have one, 
struck us and betrayed us, and sold us and wounded us. 
We dreamed of gentle hands and loving words. 

;8/|NDIAN literature : 157 

for were we not the soil filled with the ache 
of longing for the seed, but instead we were coarsely used, 
our bodies brutalized, our souls numbed. 

And even our mothers denied us. 

In the hour of darkness, they 
cut off our hair, shaved our heads, 
burnt us on the funeral pyre, 
burnt us in our homes. 

Our brothers inherited the earth. 

We were disinherited even of our smallest 
human rights, the day we were bom. 

Our parents cursed us. They educated 
our brothers, gave them the land 
and the houses, and the future, 
and power and the glory. 

We were married off, we were mere 
pieces of property, passed from one family 
to another, to work and bear children, 
or if we didn’t bear children, 
to be cursed for our barrenness. 

No one looked into our eyes with love. 

If they had, they’d have heard our souls talk. 
Instead all they said was 
She’s hysterical. Women are like that, 
especially when they menstruate, especially 
when they stop menstruating, 
especially as they approach death. 


Poets throw part of themselves into the sea. 
Messages in bottles 
Which survive a generation 
And are then cast by the tide 
On some distant shore. 

Foreign, alone,, unrecognized. 

Carrying an unknown mark. 

Other hearts surge forward 


And carry that still warm, living heart 
To their silent, inner rooms. 

They nourish back the poem and the poet 
To life, with their recognition, 

With their understanding, yes, even with their tears. 
She lives again, who had but slept. 

Caught in the hopeless web of death. 

Her death a lonely death, her voice unheard. 
Her life spent, unshared. 

She who wondered what she should do 
With all this immensity in a measured world. 
She who did not understand 
the meaning of the word SEPARATION, 

And that love is a scar which cannot be hidden 
even from the servants. 

Who knew the ultimate penury; 

That life is a gipsy camp 
and we go begging 
from heart to heart; 

The loneliness of Hagar, exiled in the desert, 
even with her child. 

She lives again in a woman’s 
lonely room. 

For now someone listens. 

Someone’s heart is wrenched, someone cares. 
Her parting with her lover is relived, 
the pain of her betrayal, 
her child’s death. 

Someone walks with her upon the mountain. 
Shares with her, her despair 
And her bitter end. 

In an unknown land, in a stranger’s room. 

In another woman’s heart 
Her life-spark bums again. 




I am 

an ordinary woman 
with a creativity confined 
To home and children. 

To a juxtaposing of carpets and curios, 
Labelling books, tying up shoe laces. 

My sensitivity 
suffering silent blows 
through a decade of togetherness 
hardening to a tortoise shell. 

My soul entrapped 
flaps itself into silence. 

My ordinariness 
A tag to bind me conveniently 
To a home and children 
To be made extraordinary perhaps 
At the cost of a few sad dry tears 
That might dare to crack through! 


I remember 
On that rocky terrain 


when we waited to watch the evening 
settling itself for the night 
folding its wings in slow motion, 

1 saw it in your eyes 
for the briefest of brief seconds, 
in the stillness of the evening 
accentuated by the cries of the kites. 

In the stillness of my soul 
uncoiled ripples of restlessness 
That single sidelong look 
chewing that single blade of grass 
caused a vulnerable crack 
giving me enough foothold 
to perch precariously 
as on a precipice. 

Whatever it be 
I have folded my wings 
I have come to stay. 




(For Richard Sommer) 

You told me to scream 
in 1984 

carrying the burden 
of this caterwaul 
I promised 
I’ll try 

I did you know 
in the hospital 
they took my baby away 
they scoured it from 
the tube 
tied it 

sent me home 
and never let the wailing 
the womb 
I tried again 
to walk into a river 
to experience a literary death 
they rescued me 
and said 
be original 
have your own style 
Then for a few years 
I let the darkness 
overcome it 


I let the fungus 
disease it 

like an overlooked cucumber 
in the refrigerator 
who doesn’t holler 

yip or yowl ‘f -'S' 
with a heroic acceptanc^^v "i 
of seeds and all 

f* 1 •• 

it settled quite comfortab^^^ A 
then one day ^ 

I remember 

it Wcis a cold February night 
in 1990 

... ’ t. 

’ * ■ 


my skin tightened around it 
turned it into a ball 
and waited 
That night I thought 
it would unfurl and escape 
my body 

and invade his flesh 

no marks on his neck 
beyond throats 
beyond refrigerated nights 
even beyond the silent passage 
where white uniformed bodies 

unstuck ones 
was the world of poetry 
where you are allowed 
to empty your lungs 
and the only world 
you startle 
is your own 
and so today 
I dedicate this ode to you 

64/iNDIAN literature : 157 

because only you knew 
long ago 
the benefits 
of the scream therapy. 


My grandmother could talk about it 
till one day 

it got lodged permanently 
in her head 

she sealed all the doors 
she pulled down the shutters 
of her pores 
only the winds 
were let loose 
in her brains 

she abandoned my grandfather 
to the servants 
her body belonged 
to the silent stars 
in cloudless skies 
“enough is enough,” 
said her caretakers 
they all ganged up 
the grandchildren said, 
“she’s making it up.” 

The doctor said, 

“she’s hallucinating” 

The daughter-in-law 
demanded proof 
as though it is possible 
to produce a receipt 
for pain 

her son fed her pills 

They put my bed next to hers 
so I could listen to her 
whimper all night 
afraid of contamination 
one night, I offered her 
a band-aid 
I was only seven 
what did 1 know 
I said, “Here, Nani 
take this band-aid 
and be done with it.” 

She died 

twenty eight years later 
her pain done with. 


I look at the gift 
you gave me 
a Wiltshire knife 
on my birthday 
and think of all the things 
I can do with it 
I can slice 
the head 
of a lettuce 
1 can carve 
a smile 

on the pumpkin 
1 can clip 
the wings 
of a chicken 
I can thrust it 
in the heart 
of a celery 


I can peel 
the skin 
of a potato 
I can slash 
the stomach 
of an eggplant 

I can behead the mushrooms 
I can hurt a tomato 

I can hurt as many tomatoes 
as I want 

the possibilities are endless 
Be nice to me 
down the years 
your gift 
comes with 
a lifetime guarantee. 


Madhavi Parekh 



Each day is a mangled forest 
That I must clear 

For a dragon spitting fire and venom 
Guards my mind 

When the dark veil shrouds the land 
I kill the devil 

And swim across the seven seas 
Become whole 
Tired, old 

Fall promptly asleep. 

Each day I get up 
Lost in various worlds 
Fighting my way through 
Towards myself 
Those who know what joy is 
Let me tell you 
That no longer can I 
Sing of love 
Or the sky or skylark 
Those who feel the pain of living 
Let me tell you 
No longer do I 
Weep with love 
Or the wind or clouds 

68/\ND1AN UTERATURE : 157 

Each day I try 
But cannot feel the mud 
Or blood 
Each day I live 
Or partly live 
To die by night. 


You are not Kannagi 
And this is not a heroic age 
He fumed. 

There is no need 
To roar like a lion 
To tear your breast out 
And bum the land 
When your sense of justice 
Is outraged 

There is no need to be 
So colourful 
To string your love 
Into a rainbow 
Why go to extremes 
Why strike a pose 
Hair flying 
For a lost anklet 
You are not Kannagi 
And this is not a heroic age 
He fumed. 

No need to go down 
Into the depths of despair 
When threatened 
Why be so loud 
So dramatic 
So transparent 


So maudlin 

To wash feet with tears 
Why wallow in 
A carnival of language 
A feast of words 
A spectacle of colours 
This is not a hoary age 
You only turn neurotic 

Don’t you know 
The beauty of silence 
You don’t have to say everything 
Paint everything 
Silence is the life of love 
The life of art 
Of this age. 

You are not Kannagi 
And this is not a heroic age 
He fumed. 

Poor fellow! 

He doesn’t follow 

That the silence of a high-strung voice 
The silence of a turbulent dance 
The quiet sorrow of our race 
Flows deep below the ice 
That reflects sounds 
Lights, colours, shades 
He doesn’t discern 
The silence after my song 
The silence after my dance 
In me danced the 
Dravidian blood 

But bred in this land of waters 

70/INDIAN literature : 157 

I can be crabby too 
And he froze 
Seeing the chill of the 
Oceanic detachment 
Of the modem age 
In my eyes. 




Don’t despise me as 
She who has no one 
I’m not one to be afraid, 
Whatever you do. 

I exist chewing dry leaves, 
My life resting on a knife-edge 
If you must torment me, 

My life, my body 
I’ll offer you, and be cleansed. 


Brother, you’ve come 
drawn by the beauty 
of these billowing breasts, 
this brimming youth. 

I’m no woman, brother, no whore. 
Ever3/time you’ve looked at me. 
Who have you taken me for? 

All men other than Chennamallikaijuna 
Are faces to be shunned, see, brother. 

Translated from Kannada by Susan Daniel 

72/INDIAN literature : 157 


Not one, not two, not three or four, 
but through eighty-four hundred thousand vaginas 
have I come. 

I have come 
through unlikely worlds, 
guzzled on 
pleasure and pain. 

Whatever be 
all previous lives, 
show me mercy 
this one day, 

O lord 

white as jasmine. 


Would a circling surface vulture 
know such depths of sky 
as the moon would know? 

Would a weed on the river bank 
know such depths of water 
as the lotus would know? 

Would a fly darting nearby 
know the smell of flowers 
as the bee would know? 

O lord white as jasmine 
only you would know 
the way of your devotees: 
how would these, 

on the buffalo’s hide? 

Translated from Kannada by A.K. Ramanujan 



In my harlot’s trade 
having taken one man’s money 
I daren’t accept a second man’s, sir. 
Ajid if I do, 

they’ll stand me naked and 
kill me, sir. 

And if I cohabit 
with the polluted, 

My hands nose ears 
they’ll cut off 
with a red-hot knife, sir. 

Ah, never, no 
Knowing you 1 will not. 

My word on it, 
libertine Shiva. 

Translated from Kannada by Susan Daniel 

JANABAI (ca. 1298-1350) 


Cast off all shame, 
and sell yourself 
in the marketplace 
then alone 
can you hope 
to reach the Lord. 

74/INDIAN literature : 157 

Cymbals in hand, 
a ueena upon my shoulder, 

I go about; 

who dares to stop me? 

The pallav of my sari 
falls away (A scandal!); 
yet will I enter 
the crowded marketplace 
without a thought. 

Jani says, My Lord, 

I have become a slut 
to reach Your home. 


Jani sweeps the floor. 

The Lord collects the dirt. 

Carries it upon His head. 

And casts it away. 

Won over by devotion. 

The Lord does lowly chores! 

Says Jani to Vithoba, 

How shall I pay your debt? 

Translated from Marathi by Vilas Seirang 
(Courtesy : Women Writing in India, ed. Susie Tharu and K. Lalita) 




W HEN Ismat Chughtai, the prima donna of Urdu fiction, 
appeared on the scene in 1 940$, everyone had to sit up 
and take notice. And this continued throughout her literary odys- 
sey spanning over four decades. She evoked both the highest 
admiration and the strongest censure. She was a born fighter and 
neither time nor age could blunt her fighting spirit or her 
rapier-thrust wit. She had a special place among her illustrious 
contemporaries in the same sphere, i.e., Rajinder Singh Bedi, 
Krishan Chander and Saadat Hassan Manto inasmuch as she 
brought into the ambit of Urdu fiction the complex and forbidden 
terrains of feminine sensibility and she treated them with panache 
and penetration. 

From the point of view of a historical perspective, Ismat may 
rightly be regarded as the spiritual descendent of the enfants 
terribles of the Angare group i.e., Sajjad Haider, Ahmed Ali (of 
Twilight in Delhi fame), Rashid Jahan and Mahmuduzzafar who 
shocked people out of their complacency in matters of accepted 
social morals through their collection of stories, Angare (Embers, 
1932). The eight stories in the collection, despite their literary 


blemishes, exposed the stink of familial and sexual life and the 
false religiousity of people. Ismat was a fellow traveller who 
appeared on the scene about a decade later and almost perfected 
what these writers attempted to do in their perfunctory ways. 

Ismat's milieu was the Muslim middle class of U.P. that 
emerged in the first quarter of this century. She was born as the 
ninth child in such a family of Badayun, U.P. in 1915. Her elder 
brother, Azim Beg Chughtai, was a well-known humorist. Her 
father was a deputy collector who moved from Badayun to Agra 
and then to Aligarh. Ismat observed watchfully the ambience of 
Muslim families of doctors, professors, civil servants and lawyers, 
most of them came from the landed aristocracy. Though this 
class accepted western liberal education in a limited way, it was 
still ritual-ridden and tradition-bound. The liberating influence of 
education hardly percolated to the inner apartments of homes. 
Though there were a few liberated Muslim women and the legen- 
dary Mohammadi Begum started her Tehzibe Niswan, a journal 
devoted to the education and emancipation of women, as far 
back as 1 898 to be followed by such journals as Khatune Mash- 
rique, Banu, Ismat etc, they could not make any impact on the 
society as a whole. Women were denied any significant social 
role and the whole raison d'etre of their lives was limited to child 
bearing and domestic chores. As was only inevitable, excessive 
restrictions, segregation of sexes, grossly incompatible arranged 
marriages etc gave rise to another set of social malaise like illicit 
and adulterous liaisons, sexual exploitation of young girls and 
widows, homosexual and lesbian tendencies and so on. A kind 
of Victorian hypocrisy vitiated social relations. Ismat was the 
product of this historical moment and exposed this hypocrisy in 
all its nakedness. Predictably, the custodians of feudal morals 
crossed swords with her, dragging her to the court on charges 
of obscenity. But Ismat remained undaunted and her characteris- 
tic response to the charge reveals her preoccupations as much 
as her personality: 

In my stories I've put down everything with objectivity. Now, if 
some people find them obscene, let them go to hell. It's my belief 
that experiences can never be obscene if they are based on authentic 

M. asaduddin/79 

realities of life. These people think that there's nothing wrong if they 

can do things behind the curtains ... All of them are halfwits.’ 

Though Chughtai is known primarily for her short stories, 
her works include quite a few novels, novelettes and plays. 
Among them are: Ziddi (The Stubborn One; novel, 1941), Terhi 
Lakeer (Crooked Line; novel, 1943), Masooma (The Innocent 
Maid; novella, 1961), Saucfa/ (The Crazy One; novel, 1964), D/7 
ki Duniya.iThe Heart's Domain; novella, 1966), Jangli Kabootar 
(Wild Pigeons; novella, 1 970), EkQatrae Khun (A Drop of Blood; 
novel, 1975), Shaitan (The Devil; plays) and Hum Log (We 
People; essays). Terhi Lakeer, by common consent her magnum 
opus, deserves special critical attention. The first 100 pages are 
the best specimen of fiction writing in any literature. Further, all 
her good stories seem to exist in a curious relationship with this 
work. They seem to have their seeds in Terhi Lakeer (rom where 
they emanate — assimilating, extending and enriching the areas 
of experience and retrospectively illuminating particular aspects 
of the original work. 

Though widely divergent in stylistic concerns and cultural 
engagements, Terhi Lakeer has striking affinity with Proust's A la 
recherche du temps perdu inasmuch as both the narratives try 
to come to grip with some elemental human passions. Chughtai's 
protagonist, like Proust's, encounters and tries to overcome a 
host of socio-sexual conflicts which draw upon, but at the same 
time transcend and mythify, the author's own autobiography. 
Making her entry into the world as the unwelcome tenth child 
of her parents, Shammon, the protagonist, had to engage herself 
in a series of encounters with the members of her extended family 
who regarded her as a positive threat to their accepted norms 
of decency and morality. Though written largely in the omniscient 
mode, the novel mixes 'memories and desires' in such a way 
that some of Shammon's experiences in her childhood acquire 
epiphanic dimensions and throughout the novel they serve as 
reference points constantly reminding us that appearances are 
deceptive, social morals are a matter of convenience rather than 
honesty and that sexual urge is the most primal and pressing urge 
of human beings driving them to all kinds of subterfuges. 

Gradually the arena shifts to the school at Aligarh where 

80/INDIAN literature : 157 

Shammon goes to study and later on to the school where she 
takes up job, but the essential nature of the encounters remains 
the same. The different levels of relationship that develops bet- 
ween her and Rasul Fatima, her and Najma, and Sa'dat and 
Najma demonstrate how, deprived of a normal relationship with 
boys in the hypocritical and cloistered environment of home and 
school, these girls turned to each other for the satisfaction of 
their as yet imperfectly perceived and inarticulate, but neverthe- 
less strong, sexual desires. The novel is certainly a tour de force 
in its forthright acknowledgement of female sexuality, its compel- 
ling account of sensibility under stress and its treatment of a 
precarious subject with utmost delicacy. All this made it a refer- 
ence point for those who looked for a literature that would 
acknowledge a new set of personal, social and literary priorities 
that would take Urdu fiction into new territories. 

A story teller par excellence, Chughtai has written quite a 
large number of them. Her better-known collections of stories 
are; Kaliyan (Buds, 1941), Choten (Wounds, 1942), Ek Baat {A 
Word, 1 945), Chhui Mui (The sensitive One, 1 952) and Do Hath 
(A Pair of Hands, 1955). Her practice of realism in her stories 
that sometimes borders on naturalism is geared to the exposure 
of social evils like polygamy, mindfess conservatism, injustices 
to and abuses of women and a defiance of what was regarded 
as undue reverence for the institutions of the past. She operates 
within a limited range i.e., confines herself, by and large, to the 
problems and portrayals of women only. The male characters 
igure mainly to buttress certain points or illuminate some aspects 
o , women s lives. Chughtai continually ridicules despotic hus- 
ands who all-too-readily surrender themselves to debauchery 

ut expect unswerving loyalty and faithfulness from their 'chaste' 

From a study of Chughtai's stories one can very well trace the 
evo ution of Indian women, more particularly Muslim women, 
from a faceless existence through education and emancipation 
to a tar more independent and 'realised' life. It will be appropriate 
to start with Chhoti Apa" which depicts the tension caused by 
the intirnate feelings and desires of an educated Muslim girl at 
e inte ace of tradition and modernity, orthodoxy and libera- 

M. asaduddin/81 

lism. The narrator here is her younger sister who is also Chughtai's 
raisonneur. She is fed up with Chhoti Apa's lectures on duty and 
good conduct. Everyone loves Chhoti Apa for her seeming doci- 
lity and subservience to tradition and customs and finds fault 
with the narrator-sister for her outspokenness and refractory 
ways. This is how things stand at the beginning of the story. Then 
one day the narrator chances upon the elder sister's personal 
diary in which she keeps a faithful record of her feelings and 
impressions, and an entirely new world opens before her. The 
diary reveals Chhoti Apa's rich and colourful inner personality 
beneath her dull and docile exterior. A few entries give us some 
clue to the goings-on in her mind: 

Today, how I long to pour my heart out to someone.’ Apajan 
always talks in breathless whispers to her friends. I wonder what 
they talk about. Does she feel the same sensation in her heart, mind 
and body?2 

Amma says Shaukat is very shy! Shy my ...I How his eyes rove and 
pierce, pierce and rove. Scared the daylights out of me in the 

Mahmood says, "In one week I'll teach you how to swim." The 
waves at night are like fire-spitting dragons rising from the ocean. 

My body heats up.'* 

The reader wonders how Chhoti Apa could maintain her dual 
personality with such skill. This story is in line with several others 
by Chughtai, for example, "Bhuibhulaiyan", "Jaal" etc. which 
deal with calflove in closely guarded, conservative homes. They 
derive their strength from the way the author builds up the tension 
between appearance and reality, between proclaimed public 
morality and private and personal urges. Chughtai shows that by 
discouraging and denying sincere expression of thoughts and 
desires, society compels the individual to practice hypocrisy and 
deceit and thus robs him of his dignity and honesty. 

"Chauthi ka Jorha" (The Trousseau of the Fourth Day) is 
certainly one of those stories which can justifiably be regarded 
as all-time great. The extreme sensitivity in the treatment of the 
subject inevitably reminds us of some of the stories of Chekhov 
and Tagore. With a few brilliant strokes the author places in 
sharp relief the ambience of a poverty-striken but decent Muslim 

82/INDIAN literature : 157 

family, its ethos, the little joys and sorrows of its members amidst 
want and penury. The story centres round Kubra who is the 
eldest daughter of the farnily. The father is dead and Kubra's 
mother, Amabi, can barely make both ends meet. She is an expert 
tailor and stitches trousseaus for brides and can adroitly rip apart 
a shroud which must not be stitched. Her only concern is to marry 
Kubra off for which she is always in a state of preparedness. Depri- 
ving herself of the bare necessities of life she stitches trousseaus 
for Kubra: "Every afternoon after lunch, Amabi settles. down on 
the coach in the seh-dari, opens her sewing box and scatters 
about her a colourful array of snippets ... When Amabi lifts tiny 
gilded flowerets from the sewing box with her small, soft-skinned 
hands, her drooping face suddenly lights up with a strange, hope- 
filled luminescence ..."^ But the eagerly-awaited proposal does 
not come. The trousseaus get old and faded -and are replaced 
by new ones. 

Meanwhile news comes that Rabat, her brother's son, is 
coming for a visit and Amabi is all aflutter. She immediately sells 
out her ear-studs to get Kubra's trousseau adorned with golden 
laces and silvery stars. Rabat comes and one by one she parts 
with all her meagre jewellery to feed him with 'decent' food while 
they themselves remain half-fed. As was the custom, Kubra is 
not allowed to come out before Rabat or directly participate in 
the talk about him. She lays the bed for him, washes his dirty 
clothes, knits sweaters and prepares food for him. She tries to 
forget her present plight in the thought of a happy future life in 
his company. Rabat gobbles up the goodies daily and nonchal- 
antly accepts all other services but does not show any liking for 
Kubra. Eventually he leaves in a hurry because his marriage has 
been fixed (of course, elsewhere). Tuberculosis, combined with 
the tension of all these days and the final shock, proves too much 
for Kubra and she dies. Amabi, always dreaming of Kubra's bridal 
trousseau, enwraps her in the shroud. 

The narrative voice in the story is that of Hamida, Kubra's 
younger sister with some authorial intrusions here and there. 
With great susceptibility and empathy, Chughtai brings out the 
helplessness of Amabi, Kubra's fond hope and Hamida's rightful 
indignation. Though most of the story is taken up with the reac- 

M. asaduddin/83 

tions of Hamida and her aunt, Chughtai articulates the pathos in 
Kubra's situation through some touching flashes: 

Fairies never danced before her eyes, neither did curled ringlets 
play fondly with her cheeks. She didn't experience any storm raging 
in her breast, nor did she impetuously ask the clouds of Sawon and 
Bhadon the whereabouts of her beloved. Adolescence crawled on 
her unawares, with silent steps as it were and left her no one knew 
when! Sweet years gave way to sour ones and finally they became 

The story also explores some of the ingrained mental attitudes 
in the Indian society where a daughter's marriage is considered 
as essential as breathing. Failure to get a husband for a girl is a 
matter of abject humiliation for the parents as well as the girl her- 
self. The 'lame aunt' of Razia Sajjad Zaheer's story "Langrhi 
Mumani" , Chammi Begum of Qurratulain Haider's story "Hasab- 
O-Nasab" and Razzu Bhaji of Qazi Abdus Sattar's story "Malkin" 
dramatise the trauma of unmarried girls, young widows and their 
parents. Sandwiched between oppressive social customs on the 
one hand and the utterly justified aspirations of her mother on 
the other, Kubra's fate symbolises the fate of those girls and young 
widows who cannot get married for one reason or the other. 

The subject matter of "Amarbel" (The Eternal Vine) is con- 
jugal incompatibility. It is also a perceptive analysis of the diseased 
mind of a middle-aged husband who feels insecure at the growing 
beauty and vitality of his young wife. Shujat marries young Rukh- 
sana after the death of his first wife. For the first few years they 
enjoy a perfectly happy and blessed married life till age begins 
to tell on Shujat's health. With dyed hair and medicine he tries 
to hold back his youth but they prove counterproductive. Rukh- 
sana's body fills out making her ravishingly beautiful and whatever 
she does has a natural charm and grace in it. This rankles in the 
mind of her husband and his sisters. They think it utter impudence 
on her part to look so graceful and charming while her husband 
is losing his health day by day. Shujat gets wildly jealous and 
boils with impotent rage, accusing her of adultery with his 
nephews, jinns and whoever. Rukhsana bears with everything 
in silence until one day Shujat dies releasing her from his clutches. 
The story demonstrates the kind of psychological realism prac- 

84/INDIAN literature : 157 

tised by Chughtai in some of her stories. She shows a very realistic 
though uncharitable aspect of family life in India when she 
describes how the sisters of Shujat remain unhappy as long as 
he has a loving, cordial relationship with Rukhsana and feel 
gratified to their brother a's' he starts finding fault with her. Now 
they find a role for themselves in the life of their brother from 
whom they became somewhat estranged after his second mar- 
riage. The portrayal of Rukhsana — her natural grace and beauty, 
her effortless vitality, her pathetic endeavours to get back the 
confidence of her husband — all this shows great psychological 
insight. The story achieves tragic depth at the moment when 
Rukhsana, unable to restore health and vitality to her husband, 
tries to make herself look old, sickly and ugly in order to be 
acceptable to her husband. She drastically curtails her intake of 
food and uses potions to make her hair grey. Her sisters-in-law 
compel her to discard her youthful dresses that showed her 
beauty to advantage and wear shabby and uncouth robes. As 
the story progresses, the tension between the ideal and the real 
becomes increasingly poignant. Shujat can be fruitfully compared 
with Totaram of Premchand's Nirmala (1927) and Madhusudan 
of Tagore's Yogayog (1929). They have their prototype in 
Casaubon of George Eliot's Middlemarch and like him all of them 
are 'terrifying figures of haunted futility.' With their creeping souls, 
petty jealousy and meanness, all these husbands suck the wives 
of their youthful vitality and grace. Nirmala, Kumudini and Rukh- 
sana suffer and obey because they live in societies that do not 
recognise a woman's right to rebel and get out of the stranglehold 
of an incompatible marriage. 

"Lihaf" (The Quilt), justifiably regarded as a breakthrough 
in Urdu short story writing, daringly delineates female sexuality. 
Begumjan, a young and beautiful but poor girl is married to the 
nawab who is of 'ripe years' and 'very pious'. After the marriage, 
he "tucks her away with other commodities in the house and 
forgets her existence"^ and spends most of his time with the "fair- 
complexioned, slender-waisted boy-students"® who stay in his 
house as his proteges. Begumjan pines away for her husband's 
love and company but the nawab has no time to spare. Out of 
sheer desperation she turns to Rabbu, her maid, for sexual and 

M. asaduddin/85 

emotional solace. The lesbian relationship between the begum 
and Rabbu is vividly drawn through the symbol of the quilt which, 
to the wonder and horror of the child-narrator, undulate at night 
as though young elephants are fighting inside. The greatest 
strength of the story lies in its subtle combination of the facetious 
and the serious. The dexterous use of the quilt and its shadows 
create an ambiguity which emanates from the contrast between 
the speciously calm external aspect of things and the treacherous 
undercurrent. The story created a lot of heat and dust and 
Chughtai was taken to the court at Lahore on charges of obscen- 
ity. At Lahore she had occasion to spend a good deal of time 
with Manto who supported her fiercely and who was himself 
being similarly tried for his story, “Thanda Gosht”. At the end 
of a two year trial Chughtai was acquitted of the charge. Accord- 
ing to her own account’ the narrative was based on the actual 
lifestory of the wife of Nawab Swalekhan of Aligarh whc was a 

The story "Badan ki Khushboo" (Lingering Fragrance) de- 
picts another seamy side of the mahal tradition. It shows how 
blooming village maidens were employed in the mahals to train 
the young nawabs and initiate them into the intricacies of sex 
life. To prevent rivalries among brothers and cousins, the older 
begums would make an equitable distribution of the flesh. When 
the girls became pregnant they would be dispatched posthaste 
to some obscure village to disembowel themselves. While their 
children languished, they had to return alone, their breast tingling 
with milk, to spend the rest of their lives as maids. If they were 
lucky, they would breastfeed the nawab's legitimate offsprings 
because the begums could not afford to allow their breasts to 
sag by doing so. The pain, anguish and injustice involved in the 
tradition can be glimpsed in extracts like the following: 

How pathetically the wretches would wail and cry. Like animals 
they groaned for their young. Breasts filled up with milk, causing 
intense pain. Often they would burn with high fevers. Sometimes 
one of the Begums' babies was brought in for suckling. How they 
would enjoy the pleasure of taking the baby to the breast. But such 
delights were ephemeral. Ladies of noble birth cannot be expected 
to breed like animals, just to give their maids the pleasure of suck- 

86/iNDIAN literature : 157 

When the enlightened Nawab Chamman Mian remained indiffe- 
rent to his maid, Halima, for a long time, his mother became 
worried because according to her such behaviour was unnatural. 
Her own brothers had started fooling around with their maids at 
the age of eleven or twelve and at his age they were "stomping 
and fuming for the kill." When Chamman implied that this kind 
of liaison with maids was nothing short of fornication and very 
exploitative, the whole family was scandalised. However, they 
bore with his 'eccentricity' attributing it to his youthful impetuou- 
sity and the books he read! But when he declared that he had 
fallen in love with Halima and would marry her in preference to 
the nawabzadi chosen by his mother, terror struck the entire 
family. They could see in their mind's eye the vvhole edifice of 
their false family honour crumbling down to pieces. When all 
persuasions and stratagems to separate'the lovers failed, Cham- 
man Mian was disowned and driven away from home to live his 
life of 'disgrace.' 

"Soney ka Anda" (The Golden Egg) has as its theme a pecu- 
liarly Indian reality the residue of which, despite our education 
and progress, persists even today. Everywhere in India the birth 
of a girl is not regarded as happy an occasion as that of a boy. 
One can find any number of families, and educated ones at that, 
where couples go on giving birth to girls in the hope of a boy- 
child. Mothers giving birth to girls only are considered unlucky 
and are subjected to taunts and humiliation. The story articulates 
the reaction of Bandu Mian, his neighbours and his own mother 
when his wife gives birth to a girl for the third time round. All of 
them behave as though the family is face to face with a disaster. 
For Bandu Mian's mother it seems really the end of the world. 
Rather than taking care of the daughter-in-law in her confinement, 
she hurls a string of abuse at her and her parents. Bandu Mian's 
wife wonders how she could help the sex of the child in her 
womb. The vision of life conjured up by the story is a loveless 
one. Here children are not regarded as blessings of God who 
come to this world 'trailing clouds of glory'. They are considered 
blessings only if they are of a certain sex. This is an aspect of 
Indian life which has rarely been'treated with the kind of serious- 
ness it deserves 

M. asaduddin/87 

In her preoccupation with the hopes and sufferings of humble 
people, Chughtai very often derives her material from authentic 
facts of everyday life. "Kallu ki Ma" (Kallu's Mother) and "Nanhi 
ki Nani" (Tiny's Granny) show, without recourse to any melod- 
rammatic sentimentality, how Chughtai explores the lives of the 
poor and the oppressed, of such outcasts as widows, prostitutes 
and beggars who have failed to find their moorings in society. 
The former deals with the plight of widowhood. Though widow- 
remarriage has always been permissible in the Muslim society, 
it is not always considered desirable. The double standard of the 
society — one for men and another for women — is evident in the 
fact that while it is considered absolutely natural for a widower 
to remarry for his personal comfort and companionship, for a 
widow it is regarded a shameless act, particularly if she has any 
children. Kallu's mother is a young widow. Her relatives look 
down upon this poor relation. She works gratis in the houses of 
her relatives in order to provide for herself and her son. But a 
young widow is considered a potential rival by all housewives. 
That is why after a peaceful interval she is turned out from each 
house. Some advise her to remarry but she dismisses the idea as 
this will bring dishonour to her parents and relatives and when 
her own son grows up, he will think ill of her. When the ailing 
Nawab Mumtaz proposes to her, her immediate reaction is one 
of refusal. But the thought of her son's future eventually makes 
her agree to the nawab's proposal. Thus though Kallu's mother 
remarries, she thinks of the nawab as the benefactor of her son 
rather than as a loving husband and company to her. "Nanhi ki 
Nani" faithfully records Granny's odyssey of life and the tricks 
and subterfuges she has to employ to keep herself and her grand 
daughter, Nanhi, alive. She has been a maid, a cook, a profes- 
sional scandal monger, a beggar, a thief and what have you. 
She plays each of these roles with consummate skill and gusto. 
Through her power of close observation Chughtai picks up seem- 
ingly trivial but interesting details of Granny's life and interweaves 
them in such a way that she becomes a living presence. Through 
Nanhi who at a tender age becomes the sexual prey of the village 
Elder, Chughtai demonstrates how difficult it is for girls of a lower 
strata of society to live a decent life. All the young men in the 

88/INDIAN literature : 157 

village claim their share in Nanhi so that eventually she has to 
leave the village. The story, along with "Kallu ki Ma" also demon- 
strates the total facelessness and self-effacement of Indian women. 
Granny starts her life as 'Wofton's daughter', then becomes 
'Basheer's wife', then 'Bismillah's mother' and finally, 'Nanhi's 
granny.' No one knows what her real name is. Kallu's mother's 
sole identity consists in the fact that she is the mother of Kallu. 

Chughtai has a remarkable ability to portray full-blooded 
country maidens which is vividly manifest in stories like "Ghar- 
wali" (Housewife), "Til" (A Mole), "Do Hath" (A Pair of Hands) 
etc. "Gharwali" contains the portrayal of Lajo, a woman of uncer- 
tain parenthood. She is a woman of easy virtue, full of zest for 
life and is ready to enjoy it as it comes to her, unhindered by any 
moral or mercenary considerations. All her masters for whom she 
worked would turn into her lovers and after they had a good time 
with her, would turn her out. She did not seem to mind it much. 
Mirza is the last in the line of such lovers. Though he feels irresis- 
tibly drawn towards her, he pretends indifference and tries to 
maintain a rough exterior. Lajo, the eternal lover that she is, feels 
hurt that a full week has elapsed but Mirza has not made any 
sexual overtures to her: "She always regarded love between a 
man and woman from a large-hearted point of view. For her love 
was the most beautiful experience of life. She had no mother or 
grandmother to teach her what was right and what was wrong. 
Eventually the ice thaws as it must and Mirza goes the way lesser 
mortals have gone before him. Lajo is the foremost in a series of 
memorable portraits, followed by Rani in "Til" and Gori in "Do 
Hath". All these women come from the lower strata of society 
and have a kind of vigour and freshness all their own. The only 
parallel one can think of is Durga in Tarashankar Banerjee's 
Canadevata (1948). They are frivolous village maidens and 
preach a robust morality that is far more healthy and creative 
than the attenuating social morals practised by the middle class. 
Chughtai presents them in all their innocence, earthiness and 
incorruptible vitality. The controlled eroticism pervading the 
above stories is a unique phenomenon in Urdu literature which 
reminds one of a good part of French fiction. 

Ismat Chughtai is intimately related to the corpus of Indian 

M. asaduddin/89 

literature that represents female consciousness. She is a natural 
writer — effortless and uninhibited, without any artifice or cliche. 
In her childhood she was introduced to the best in the world of 
short stories — ^Tagore, Chekhov, Maupassant, O. Henry etc. It 
is through her acquaintance with these writers and her acute 
power of observation that she almost perfected the art of creating 
living characters through the minimum of brushstrokes. The lan- 
guage used is of everyday speech — idiomatic, pert, racy and 
smart, with a liberal sprinkling ofspecifically feminine expressions 
and colloquialisms {begumati, zuban). With the help of this lan- 
guage which is incredibly powerful in suggestiveness she takes 
head on a whole baggage of cultural assumptions that perpetua- 
ted the status quo in all its benighted sterility. She acted as a 
shock absorber to a whole generation of women writers who, 
with the precedent of Chughtai before them, could take on the 
society valiantly. Her tongue-in-cheek mode interspersed with 
humour, repartee, wit and irony makes her stories immensely 
readable and lively without a moment's dullness. The aggressive 
vigour of her language and the immediacy of experiences take 
the reader off his feet the moment he starts a typical Chughtai 
story. Not for her is the rarefaction and refinement of Ruswa's 
Umrao Jan or the heroines of Qurratulain Haider. 

(Translation of extracts quoted, unless otherwise mentioned, is by the author) 


1. Chand Gul (ed), IsmatkeShahkarAfsaneQheelum Book Centre, 1987), p. 3. 

2. Ismat Chughtai, Kaliyan (Lahore: Naya Idarah, 1948), p. 53 

3. Ibid, p. 54 

4. Ibid 

5. Tahira Naqvi (ed). The Quilt and Other Stories (Delhi : Kali for Women, 
1990), p. 93 

6. "Chauthi ka Jorha" quoted from C.M. Naim(ed), Readings in Urdu : Prose 
arrd Poetry (Honolulu : East-West Centre Press, 1965), p. 5 

7. Ismat Chughtai, Choten (Lahore : Naya Idarah, 1943), p. 92 

8. Ibid. 

9. Javed Anand, "Nanimaan of Forbidden Tale”, Sunday Observer Aug. 1 2, 

1 0. The Quilt and Other Stories, p. 1 98 

1 1 . Ismat Chughtai, Choten, p. 98 

88/INDIAN literature : 157 

village claim their share in Nanhi so that eventually she has to 
leave the village. The story, along with "Kallu ki Ma" also demon- 
strates the total facelessness and self-effacement of Indian women. 
Granny starts her life as 'Wofton's daughter', then becomes 
'Basheer's wife', then 'Bismillah's mother' and finally, 'Nanhi's 
granny.' No one knows what her real name is. Kallu's mother's 
sole identity consists in the fact that she is the mother of Kallu. 

Chughtai has a remarkable ability to portray full-blooded 
country maidens which is vividly manifest in stories like "Ghar;- 
wali" (Housewife), "Til" (A Mole), "Do Hath" (A Pair of Hands) 
etc. "Gharwali" contains the portrayal of Lajo, a woman of uncer- 
tain parenthood. She is a woman of easy virtue, full of zest for 
life and is ready to enjoy it as it comes to her, unhindered by any 
moral or mercenary considerations. All her masters for whom she 
worked would turn into her lovers and after they had a good time 
with her, would turn her out. She did not seem to mind it much. 
Mirza is the last in the line of such lovers. Though he feels irresis- 
tibly drawn towards her, he pretends indifference and tries to 
maintain a rough exterior. Lajo, the eternal lover that she is, feels 
hurt that a full week has elapsed but Mirza has not made any 
sexual overtures to her: "She always regarded love between a 
man and woman from a large-hearted point of view. For her love 
was the most beautiful experience of life. She had no mother or 
grandmother to teach her what was right and what was wrong."” 
Eventually the ice thaws as it must and Mirza goes the v/ay lesser 
mortals have gone before him. Lajo is the foremost in a series of 
memorable portraits, followed by Rani in "Til" and Gori in "Do 
Hath". All these women come from the lower strata of society 
and have a kind of vigour and freshness all their own. The only 
parallel one can think of is Durga in Tarashankar Banerjee's 
Canadevata (1 948). They are frivolous village maidens and 
preach a robust morality that is far more healthy and creative 
than the attenuating social morals practised by the middle class. 
Chughtai presents them in all their innocence, earthiness and 
incorruptible vitality. The controlled eroticism pervading the 
above stories is a unique phenomenon in Urdu literature which 
reminds one of a good part of French fiction. 

Ismat Chughtai is intimately related to the corpus of Indian 

M. asaduddin/89 

literature that represents female consciousness. She is a natural 
writer — effortless and uninhibited, without any artifice or cliche. 
In her childhood she was introduced to the best in the world of 
short stories — ^Tagore, Chekhov, Maupassant, O. Henry etc. It 
is through her acquaintance with these writers and her acute 
power of observation that she almost perfected the art of creating 
living characters through the minimum of brushstrokes. The lan- 
guage used is of everyday speech — idiomatic, pert, racy and 
smart, with a liberal sprinkling ofspecifically feminine expressions 
and colloquialisms [hegumati, zuban). With the help of this lan- 
guage which is incredibly powerful in suggestiveness she takes 
head on a whole baggage of cultural assumptions that perpetua- 
ted the status quo in all its benighted sterility. She acted as a 
shock absorber to a whole generation of women writers who, 
with the precedent of Chughtai before them, could take on the 
society valiantly. Her tongue-in-cheek mode interspersed with 
humour, repartee, wit and irony makes her stories immensely 
readable and lively without a moment's dullness. The aggressive 
vigour of her language and the immediacy of experiences take 
the reader off his feet the moment he starts a typical Chughtai 
story. Not for her is the rarefaction and refinement of Ruswa's 
Umrao ]an or the heroines of Qurratulain Haider. 

(Translation of extracts quoted, unless otherwise mentioned, is by the author) 


1. Chand Gul (ed), Ismat ke Shahkar Afsane(]hee\iim Book Centre, 1987), p. 3. 

2. Ismat Chughtai, Kaliyan (Lahore: Naya Idarah, 1948), p. 53 

3. Ibid, p. 54 

4. Ibid 

5. Tahira Naqvi (ed). The Quilt and Other Stories (Delhi : Kali for Women, 
1990), p. 93 

6. "Chauthi ka Jorha" quoted from C.M. Naim(ed), Readings in Urdu : Prose 
and Poetry (Honolulu : East- West Centre Press, 1965), p. 5 

7. Ismat Chughtai, Choten (Lahore : Naya Idarah, 1943), p. 92 

8. ibid. 

9. Javed Anand, "Nanimaan of Forbidden Tale", Sunday Observer Aug. 12, 

10. The Quilt and Other Stories, p. 198 

1 1 . Ismat Chughtai, Choten, p. 98 

A Story 



/ / j LAHI khair! Hail Ghulam Dastgir! Obeisance to the twelve 
I imams! ... Make a move, dear ... carefully ... with steady 
steps . . . pull up the shalwar . . . easy, easy” — Bi Mughlani bellow- 
ed like a herald. I pulled Bhabijan up, Bhaijan pushed from the 
other side and thus she, a veritable ad for amulets and talismans, 
took the small step and rolled over to the chair like an inflated 
balloon. "Praise be to God Almighty!” BI Mughlani sighed with 
relief and we felt a great load off our minds. 

Bhabijan was not exactly born with a silver spoon in her 
mouth, nor had ayahs and other ladies-in-waiting at her disposal. 
Yet, before long, the frail slip of a girl became as tender as a 
swollen wound. Fact is, the moment she was alienated from her 
mother's bosom, she came to adorn Bhaijan's bed. Here she had 
pretty little to do and blossomed like a flower, fresh and fragrant, 
without any sense of life's harshness. Bi Mughlani took charge 
of her from the day of her marriage. She woke up from sleep at 
a leisurely hour, but remained in bed while Bi Mughlani flurried 
around attending to her person. Later she would be given a choice 
breakfast. Having washed it all down, she would sit around — her 
cheeks resting on her hand and lips parted in a smile. 

The smiles began to fade In the second year of her marriage 
as nausea made her spit all the time. Finding his beautiful doll-like 
bride turning into a permanently sick woman, Bhaijan began to 
lose interest in her. But Bi Mughlani and Ammijan were bursting 
with excitment. From the first month of pregnancy they threw 
themselves wholeheartedly — stitching diapers etc with such 


enthusiasm as though the delivery was imminent. So covered 
was she with amulets that even a mole could not have peeped 
through. Constant application of witchcraft and charms wore her 
down. As it is, Bhabijan was never a great one for walks and 
sprints, but now even if she turned on her sides herself, Bi 
Mughlani would raise such a racket that the whole house would 
be accumulated there. Even a half-baked clay pot was not hand- 
led with more care. Pirs and faqirs became permanent fixtures 
in the house, ever ready to mutter prayers and ward off evil spirits. 

In spite of Bi Mughlani's rigorous vigil, the shell cracked 
before time and expectation belied. The blossoms withered away 
and the branch remained bare. But a thousand thanks to God 
that her life was saved. God is bountiful. If the mother survived, 
more would come. And it did. The vigil was intensified. Yet 
hopes again drew a blank. The third time round matters took a 
grave turn. The poor thing was choked with pills and syrups. A 
sick pallor gave her the look of a sweet potato turned bulbous. 
Her evenings stretched to the early hours of dawn. Ammi Begum 
and Bi Mughlani were not too pleased. Lying on her bed, Bhabijan 
seemed to hear the Shehnai of Bhaijan's second marriage. 

However, by God's grace, the pregnancy advanced quite 
a bit without any mishap. This time, besides pirs and faqirs, Delhi 
doctors also descended in their full armour. From the second 
month she was treated as delicately as though she was a soap 
bubble and provided with all comforts. No one was allowed to 
sneeze or blow one's nose in her vicinity lest the bubble should 
burst once again. When the doctors declared her out of danger, 
Ammi Begum decided that the delivery should take place at 
Aligarh. It was hardly a two-hour journey. Bhabijan was reluctant 
to leave Delhi eventhough the doctors had given the go-ahead. 
Her horizon was darkening. She knew that another miscarriage 
would be her husband's ticket to second marriage. Now Bhaijan 
could do anything in the name of progeny. God knows why the 
fellow was so keen on keeping his name alive. As it is, he did 
not have any name to speak of. If she failed in this one conjugal 
duty, she would have to forgo all bridal comforts. She had reigned 
so long on the strength of her beauty and charm. Now she was 
perched on a boat her husband was prepared to topple. Where 

92/INDIAN literature : 157 

could the poor thing go? She did not learn needlework for her 
lack of interest in it and the little she had studied was long forgot- 
ten. In the absence of a provider she could resort to one thing 
only — ^that is, to render the same service to everybody which 
was, so far, exclusive to her husband. That is why she was 
desperately looking forward to the delivery which would make 
her life secure. If the father (of the newborn) lacked interest, the 
grandfather would certainly provide for her maintenance. 

As if she had not enough on her mind already, there came 
Ammi Begum's imperial command to start for Aligarh and we 
were thrown aflutter. A bunch of new amulets would see her 
through. "Ilahi khair!" Caught unawares by the speeding train, 
Bi Mughlani crashed down and Bhabijan clutched at the pitcher. 

"Is this a train or a transport to hell! Hail p/r Murshid, help 
us ... Hail HazratAli ..." Holding Bhabijan's tummy, Bi Mughlani 
started muttering prayers and verses from the holy Quran. Some- 
how we reached Ghaziabad. 

The Toofan Mail, true to its name, tears along without stop- 
ping. The entire coach was reserved for us. Hence the threat of 
jostling crowds was out. I was absorbed in the crowd in front of 
the window and Bi Mughlani shielded her ears against the trains 
shrieking whistle. Bhabijan nearly fainted at the sight of the crowd 
from afar. 

As the train chugged off, the coach door opened and a pea- 
sant woman moved in. The Coolie tried to pull her away but she 
stuck to the handle like a lizard and would not budge. Gradually 
she dragged herself to the bathroom door, despite Bi Mughlani's 
constant poohpoohing, and leaned against it, panting. 

"May God forgive our sins!" Bi Mughlani murmured. "Hey 
you! Are you pregnant for the full term?" The panting woman 
just managed to spread her parched lips in a strained smile and 
nodded assent. 

"By God, this girl has some cheek!" The shock was too much 
for Bi Mughlani and she began to slap her own face repeatedly. 
The woman did not respond. The intensity of pain made her 
restless and she clutched it at bathroom door with both hands. 
Her breath came in gasps and perspiration appeared on her 
forehead like dewdrops on a cool ground. 

ISMAT chuchtai/93 

"Is it your first pregnancy?" Piqued by her lack of experience, 
Bi Mughlani asked angrily. The woman could not reply as fits of 
pain swept over her. Her face turned pale and tears trickled 
down her dilated eyes. Bi Mughlani kept up her litany of lament 
as the woman continued to writhe in tearing pain. 

"What do you think you're doing, looking on like that? No 
dear, look the other way; you're still a virgin maid." I turned 
away. But the heart-rending cry of the woman made me turn 
back involuntarily. Bi Mughlani was incensed: "God's curse! As 
though she'd achieve salvation if she sees a child being born?" 
Bhabijan, her face wrapped in her dupatta, kept on staring. Bi 
Mughlani's burqa dropped to her nose and she badly smeared 
the floor of the coach with her constant spitting. 

All of a sudden it seemed that the world shrank on its axis 
and twisted itself. So intense was my reaction that my ears began 
to burn unbearably and tears welled up automatically. "This is 
the end", I thought. But the tension in the atmosphere melted 
abruptly. The burqa slipped from Bi Mughlani's nose as a lump 
of red flesh dropped near Bhabijan's royal shoes, the Salimshahis. 

I cried out in surprise and joy and bent down to look at the tiny 
wonder that broke all hell loose by letting out a full-throated yell. 

Bi Mughlani took hold of my plaits and shoved me into the 
corner and began to rage against the woman once again. Through 
tearful eyes, 1 saw that the woman had not died. Instead her torn 
and parched lips were slowly parting in a smile. The constant 
clamour of the newborn forced her eyes open. She turned side- 
ways to take it to her bosom and began to tidy it up with her 
inexperienced hands. She tore a strip from her dupatta to tie up 
the umbilical cord and then looked about her helplessly. Seeing 
me absorbed in her, she burst out laughing — "Have you got a 
blade or knife, Bibiji?" 

Bi Mughlani raged on. Bhabijan clung to my anchal as I 
handed over a pair of a nail-cutting scissors to the woman. She 
was my age, may be a few months older. I was reminded of field 
animals like sheep and goats who bring forth their offsprings as 
they graze along, without any fuss and not caring for the help of 
lady doctors and then tidy up by licking them with their tongue. 

Elderly people prevent young girls from watching a delivery 

94/INDIAN literature : 157 

saying that when Jebunnisa saw her sister giving birth, she was so 
shocked that she never got married. So much for old folks and 
their old wives tales! Jebunnisa's sister must have been as fragile 
as my Bhabijan. If she had witnessed the delivery of this woman, 
she would have been convinced like me that people make a lot 
of fuss for nothing. Giving birth is as easy a job for women as 
getting on or off the train for Bhabijan. After all this is not some- 
thing to be ashamed of. Far more revolting is the gossip between 
Bi Mughlani and Amma about fellow women which fall on my 
ears day in and day out like hot embers and make them burn. 

For sometime the woman tried to breastfeed her child in her 
clumsy way. Her tears had dried up and she burst into occasional 
fits of laughter as though someone was tickling her. Bi Mughlani's 
chiding subdued her somewhat. She folded the baby in a rag, 
put it under the seat and stood up. Bhabijan let out a scream. 
Bi Mughlani soothed her. The woman fetched water from the 
bathroom and began to clean the coach. Rubbing off the stains 
from Bhabijan's brocaded shoes, she left them standing in a 
corner. Then she picked up her child and sat leaning, against the 
bathroom door with the air of one who, having finished the day's 
chores, sits down to relax. As the train drew to a halt she hopped 

"Where's your ticket?" asked the ticket collector. She held 
out her dupatta with flourish as though she was exhibiting wild 
berries that she plucked stealthily. Too shocked to speak, the 
ticket collector stood transfixed while she turned away and van- 
ished in the crowd. 

God's wrath on all these harlots! They go on producing 
bastards ... the witches!" Bi Mughlani muttered to herself. The 
train gave a lurch and chugged off. 

Bhabijan's smouldering sobs abruptly turned into a searing 
scream. "Oh God! What's wrong. Begum Dulhan?" Bi Mughlani's 
heart came to her mouth as she looked at the Begum's terror-stric- 
ken face. Writ large on it was the vision of her husband's second 
marriage : 

Thus does Fate play with us 

Shows the shore and capsizes the boat 

ISMAT chughtai/95 

The unborn child got cold feet and wilted away before its 
entry into the world. My flower-like Bhabijan felt so unnerved 
after witnessing the bizarre delivery in the train that she had a 
miscarriage once again. 


Translated from Urdu by M. Asaduddin & Sunrita Basu □ 



Hema Guha 

Hema Cuha 

Mahasveta Devi 
Kamala Das 
Binapani Mohanty 
Manorama Mathai 
Vishwapriya L. Iyengar 
E. Chudamani 






U TTAMCHAND Bania had vowed to finish them not bodily 
or by depriving their bread but through sheer denial of salt. 
He was both a trader and a moneylender, and his family had 
been the masters of the Jhujhar belt for generations. He hadn't 
imagined that the local Koles and Oraons would answer him 
back ever. 

But the incredible happened one day when this government 
came to power. Never before had such a thing happened as 
each government replaced the other over the years. 

Jhujhar is a tribal village, nestling along the Palamau Reserve 
Forest. The villagers are allowed to graze cattle, collect twigs 
from the forest ground for fuel and leaves for thatching their 
houses. Besides, they also steal tamarind leaves, bamboo shoots 
and other edible roots and tubers. The forest department pretends 
to be unaware of all this. The tribals' hunt birds, rabbits and hed- 
gehogs too. The census count of such birds and beasts in these 
forests being not exactly accurate, officials turn a blind eye. But 
the hunters barely succeed in trapping the animals for meat. Even 
beasts are cautious these days. It's not easy to entrap them. 

The village rests along the reserve forest on a small patch 
close on the bank of the Koel. However, the land belongs to 
Uttamchand. His ancestors were among those Hindu traders 
who came into the region after the Kole Revolt of 1 831 . Uttam- 
chand had bought nearly all of the tribals' arable forest land. It 
was extremely easy then as it is now to evict these tribals by 
buying off their land. In those days they were very scared to go 
into legalities, calculations, documents and so on. They re 

100/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 157 

the same now. So the people of Jhujhar do not even know when 
they had land of their own, when they used to take home the 
crops they raised. 

The entire village is shackled by Uttamchand into forced 
labour without wages. For generations, year after year, they walk 
twelve miles to Uttamchand's village Tahar to repay the unwritten 
debts of their forefathers. For just a few morsels a day and a 
meagre share of the harvest they till his land without pay. Their 
share of the crop too is added to their debts. They were not even 
aware that the system was illegal till the officer of the tribal depart- 
ment told them so. Of course, that did not stop them from pledg- 
ing their labour free for they knew it would not be possible for 
them to go up to the court to file a complaint against their extor- 
tioner Uttamchand. Was it possible to go all the way to Dalton- 
gunj? Where would they find a lawyer who would advise them? 
Even the tribal department was beyond their reach! The depart- 
ment had its office in the city. But they lived in the village. That 
too a remote one not linked to bus or rail routes. Only a small 
village of seventy six people belonging to seventeen families. The 
government didn't even know of their existence till the third 
general elections after Independence. They began casting votes 
from the fourth elections. Election days were good times. Uttam- 
chand offered, "Why walk all the way from the forests? Here's 
a rupee for each of you my brothers and sisters. I am here to 
cast the votes for you." 

Such was the system since the fourth general elections. 
Things changed only in 1 977. The nearest primary school teacher 
Balkishen Singh began visiting Jhujhar. He persuaded them to 
send three of the boys from that village to school. It was he who 
explained how important the sixth elections were. That they 
should cast their own votes. The money fetched per head? Bal- 
kishen arranged much more Jnvestment for the village. Jhujhar 
got its first well through funds from the panchayat. Quite a big 
well with enough water. Until then the river was their only source 
of water and in the dry months it became really scarce. 

Uttamchand was first annoyed with the election issue. 

The new ministry came into power after elections. The exis- 
tent officers and the existing departments began playing their 


new roles. There was no metallic road except a pathway to Jhuj- 
har. Organised youths walked all the way to the village to note 
the ancestral history of their debts which made them work without 
wages. Purtf Munda happened to be the most vocal person and 
personality of the village. He was the only man there who had 
been as far as Ranchi and Daltongunj and had worked as a coolie 
in Dhanbad. As luck never smiled on him anywhere he spitted 
on the world and returned to jhujhar. 

He said, "What's the point in asking us? Uttamchand has 
all the records. Ask him." 

"Do you know that forced labour is against the law?" 

"There's not much use knowing that. He won't lend us 
money otherwise." 

"He will be served right this time." 

"You see to that." 

"Why don't you come along?" 

"All right." 

The boys threatened Uttamchand in front of Purti Munda. 
"No tribal of this region will work without pay from this year. If 
anyone is forced we'll see to it that the matter is sorted out in 
the courts." 

"As you please." Uttamchand said so and was forced to 
stick to his words. He couldn't even disallow people of Jhujhar 
from tilling his land. The youths said, "they had been tilling the 
land for more than twelve years now. They deserve half the 

"The other half is mine." 

"After harvest the committee will divide the share in your 

"That's all right." 

All of a sudden Purti Munda begged the boys, "Lend me 
some money. Let me wet my throat before going home. What 
a day it was! Whose face did I first see in the morning?" They 
refused, "No. You must give up drinking. The tribals have ruined 
themselves by drinking." On his way back, Purti Munda parted 
with half a rupee he had on him and drank Tari*. Caressing the 
vessel he thought aloud, "Ruining our lives! What do the babus 
know of it. How else would we douse the fire in our stomach?" 

102/INDIAN literature : 157 

Uttamchand, in spite of his defeats, pledged to avenge him- 
self. He vowed to finish them off by deprivation of salt. Of course, 
such an aggressive decision befitted him. The people of Jhujhar 
come for their weekly market to Palani or Muru. All the grocery 
shops of these two markets belonged to Uttamchand. He said, 
"Let them have a taste of saltless gruel. Such ingratitude after 
being fed by me for so long!" 

At first Purti and his lot did not realise the significance of 
not getting salt at the weekly markets. When they did, they ran 
to Daltongunj to the office of the youth committee. One of the 
boys was listening to the transistor there. He heard everything 
and said, "This is not within our jurisdiction. If the shopkeeper 
doesn't want to sell salt, what can we do? Now we are running 
around all over. We have got to tackle so many bigger problems." 

Purti and these young gentlemen didn't share common 
wavelengths of mind, they never do. Purti tried in vain to explain 
to them that life without salt was impossible for them. They spiced 
their leafy meals with salt only. Sensing trouble they bought ten 
kilos of salt with the bus fare they had, walking home for 18 
miles. Distributing the salt to each household they said, "Have 
it sparingly." 

But ten kilos of salt did not last eternally. Now Purti decided 
to talk to the forest contractor. "Give us work. You needn't pay 
us. Just give us salt." 

"Give you salt?" 

The contractor couldn't help feeling bewildered at the idea 
as even today after so much hike in prices, salt remains cheapest 
in India. Immediately he thought it important to find out the 
whereabouts of these people. He knew they tilled Uttamchand's 
land so he went to Uttamchand. What he learnt proved beyond 
doubt that these men were troublesome indeed. They use the 
young urban radicals to sort out revolutionary agreements with 
the Mahajan they have known all their lives. The contractor 
would be inviting trouble if he gave them work. So he turned 
out Purti's lot and those swarthy men walked with their heads 
down across the white sands. 

Thereafter, they tried to barter crops during harvest in ex- 
change of salt. As a result they lost all the crop for a small quantity 


of salt. Everyone began to blame Purti — "Why did you go to the 
Mahajan's house at their behest? Now arrange for our salt. You 
were out to prove your manliness then. Wanted to be a leader!” 

"Would our forced slavery have stopped otherwise?” 

"We could have carried on as before.” 

"Could we have gained right over the crop?” 

"We might as well have starved.” 

To the folks of Jhujhar, the days of toiling without wages, 
of getting no share of crops, seemed golden. In their thoughts 
they weighed the merits of both. Wiry, brackish salt got heavier 
on the scale. Abolition of the system of forced labour and getting 
a rightful share of the crop seemed to weigh much lighter. 

The village headman said, "We may still manage to have 
gruel without salt. But why do we tire so easily? Our limbs hardly 
move!” To all of them it seemed that salt was only secondary to 
the situation, basically it was the Gods who were angry. The head- 
man sighed, "Everyone feels the same. It's time to offer prayers 
to Haram Deo. Purti, get some salt from the forest guard by sell- 
ing off the couple of hens I reared. Let's have the taste of salt one 
day.” The forest guard was delighted with such a weird proposal. 
He said, "Wait, I'll get you salt from the stores.” 

"But you won't get the hens cheaper than eight rupees.” 

"All right.” 

"How much salt can eight bucks fetch?” 

"Sixteen kilos.” 

"Get that then.” 

The salt was very brackish and dark indeed. 

"So dark?” 

"It's for the elephants, the deer. Do they distinguish between 
black and white?” 

"Do they have salt? Salt?” 

"Of course. But from the salt lick.” 

"What happens otherwise?” 

"They shrivel up.” 

"Where's the salt lick?” 

"There are places.” 

Purti kept thinking about this on his way home with the salt. 
Elephants and deer got it from the salt lick. The news kept him 

104/INDIAN literature : 157 

SO engrossed that he didn't realise that the weight of salt on his 
back couldn't be as much as sixteen kilos. They had a feast with 
meat on the day of the Puja. Later Purti went and sat on the river 
bank. He drank all by himself and kept staring at the forest. The 
elephants were usually out at dawn and in the evenings. They 
could hardly be spotted during the day. Where was the salt lick 
and when did they go there? The forest is huge. Purti planned 
combing the forest in search of the lick. 

Shops in the weekly markets were not selling them salt. The 
youth committee did not totally ignore the news. They kept it at 
the back of their mind and one of them asked a medical represen- 
tative of the area how omnipotent salt was in the human body. 
The representative was new to his job and was not getting much 
scope of applying what he had learnt. His explanation bewildered 
the young man. It went like this: Salt and water are the inorganic 
minerals of the body-. These are absolutely essential and play an 
important role in cell formation. The basic salts are Chloride, Car- 
bonate, Bicarbonate, Sulphate and Phosphate. Potassium, Cal- 
cium, and Magnesium combine with Chloride to form chemical 
compounds of Iron, Carbon Dioxide, Sulphur and Phosphorus. 
Generally, the functions of salt in the human body are, regulation 
of the osmosis level; maintenance of the balance of water and 
blood volume; maintenance of the acid-base balance; supply of 
the basic essential elements to bones and teeth and maintenance 
of proper irritability of muscles and nerve cells. It was also essential 
for coagulation of blood. Salt formed the basic element of some 
hormones and enzyme systems too. It regulated capillary permea- 
bility and cell membranes of the body. All this seemed Greek to 
hi^m and he asked, "but my friend, did I enquire for the purpose 
of studying for an examination?" 

"Why else would you ask?" 

"What harm could a saltless diet bring?" 

Not much. With a high calorie diet you only need a bit of 


many who take in hardly any calorie!" 

, the food habits of Indians are not healthy." 

But I am talking of those ..." 

He understood there was no point in tiring himself by scuffl- 

mahasveta devi/1 05 

ing with a shadow. The tea stall of Daltongunj wasn't millions 
of miles away from Jhujhar. But the two places were located in 
two different constellations of the Universe and it's common 
knowledge in spite of all the songs and poems composed on the 
stars, these were actually more fiery than a million suns. The sky 
in between only keeps apart by millions of miles the burning, 
revolving stars. Daltongunj basked in the warmth of timber trade. 
Jhujhar burnt, scorched in the deprivation of some unfortunate 
tribals banished from modern India. The attempt to explain Purti 
Munda's problem to the terry-cloth attired, powder-painted, 
smart lad was as vain as shadow-play. 

"Who are you talking of?" 

"They survive only on gruel or Mama* or boiled corns or 
fruits. Meat or fish sometimes." 

"Don't they take salt? Why?" 

"They don't get it." 

"What nonsense. It's the cheapest thing." 

"They are not being sold salt." 

"That's a lie." 

"What would happen if these people who have low calorie 
meals didn't take salt?" 

"Who? Have you seen the new film?" 

"No. Why don't you tell me?" 

"How can I explain to a novice?" 

"Why have you learnt so much then?" 

"Listen, salt controls the fluid level of the body, also of 
blood. Lack of salt may increase blood coagulation. The heart 
will find it difficult to pump the thickened blood and the outcome 
would be breathlessness. Muscle cramps may be frequent. Mov- 
ing about will be a strenuous business. Bones and teeth Will 
definitely wear off. The body will generally decay. Anyway, forget 
all that. Come, let's go and watch the film." 

The film featured Amitabh Bachchan, a voluptuous tanga- 
walli, fierce gangsters and a lot of violence. But when the young 
man returned home chewing Banarasi pan after Amjad Khan was 
punished by law, he still couldn't forget the Jhujhar problem. 
The next day he went over to Uttamchand's place in Tahar. Hear- 

106/lNDlAN LITERATURE : 157 

ing his complaint, he said that the tribals didn't lie so much be- 
fore. Now they have become real bastards. 


"I am not selling them salt you mean?" 


"Well, 1 am selling salt to none at all. There is no profit in 
it. So I am not supplying salt to the weekly market for some time 
now. Didn't 1 sell them salt so long? What nonsense! Didn't I 
sell small quantities? Rubbish! Now the shops are out of stock 

"But why aren't you selling it?" 

"It's a total loss." 

"Are you being fair?" 

"Since I am Uttamchand, a trader, have voted the Congress 
so far, whatever 1 say is wrong, whatever I may do is unfair." 

"You misunderstand me." 

"No Sir. I have supported the Congress; a poor, naive grocer 
like me can't survive if he doesn't help the party in power. When 
you asked me to stop employing them without wages and give 
them a share of the crops, I did so. The Congress workers never 
said that. If they did, I would've done the same. But how can ! 
listen to you now? You would be forcing me to sell something 
that brings no profit." 

"Are they coming to you for borrowing money?" 

"Why should they? They are getting a share of the crops 
and gave me just a token bit of it." 

"The land hardly yields much." 

"What am 1 to do about that? Am I to be responsible for 
the low fertility of the soil too? And there's something else. Even 
if they came for loan I wouldn't lend them." 


"That's simple. Your government thinks it's unfair to recover 
the money lent. But too many laws are no good. Such laws 
existed in the past too. But the Congress government didn't take 
much interest in implementing these because they understood 
^ the people's problems. They knew that the poor tribals would 
'itarve to death if the Mahajan didn't lend them money. But you 
i I to realise that. Well, you must be having good reasons to do 


what you're doing. All's well that ends well. I won't lend them 

The young man returned home defeated and made a noble 
vow to open cooperative stores in the jhujhar belt at the first avail- 
able opportunity. Later he became busy in resolving a dispute 
over an illegal liquor shop elsewhere and forgot about Jhujhar. 

In spite of all good intentions on their part, Purti and his 
folks continued to remain in utter darkness. However, Purti didn't 
sit idle. He surveyed the forest silently everyday. The deer lick 
was found to be near the forest office. Finally one day while 
chasing a hare he discovered the elephants salt lick. The scene 
was extremely significant. Purti climbed atop a tree in fear. The 
herd of elephants licked salt at some distance. Rocky salt. Sprink- 
led on the rocks with a mixture of earth. 

"A field of salt!" Purti thought. 

Then as darkness descended the elephants left the place. The 
elephants of Betia understood "show business". At dusk tourists 
came out in jeeps to catch a glimpse of the animals. They were 
used to seeing herds of elephants feeding on bamboo groves. 
The elephants turned that way. After all the animals left, an old 
elephant arrived with quite a warning. It displayed no domesticity 
about its ways though elephants were generally very mild animals. 
"Loner," Purti told himself and clung to the tree in fear. A young 
one must have thrown this one out and become the leader of 
the herd. Such elephants are called "Ekoyas" and avoided by 
all. Ekoyas are generally unpredictable. Their behaviour and 
attitude becomes irresponsible as a result of being overthrown 
and driven out of the herd. The loner wet the salt lick before he 
left. Purti realised the animal's wicked brain behind its mischie- 
vous act. 

He returned home with some salt tied to his waist cloth 
carefully scraped from the dry parts of the lick. Pouring the rock 
salt in boiling water. He told his wife, "We'll have to see tomorrow 
how much salt remains after sedimentation." 

"Shall we get salt from the water?" 


In the morning they found both salt and clay sedimented at 
the bottom of the vessel. Purti sighed, "It's salt after all. The mar- 

108/INDIAN literature : 157 

kets don't sell any." He drank the dirty, brackish water after 
filtering it through a cloth and gave everyone the news, warning 
them of the loner elephant. The village headman said, "Be very 
careful. Remember what happened last time?" All of them did. A 
herd of elephants used to come every year from Saranda to Bella 
forest. A few years ago an unscrupulous tribal youth struck an 
arrow at a young one and killed it. This enraged the herd and 
the elephants moved around the dead body in solemn pledge 
nearly incomprehensible to humans. 

Then they began avenging the death. The tribals of Jhujhar 
and Kplna fled homes. The elephants ravaged the two villages. 
Next year they came from Saranda and killed two of the forest 
labourers working in the forest. In the third year they trampled 
a bus and a car near the Betia Forest Bungalow. They stopped 
only after satisfying themselves by avenging the human race for 
three consecutive .years. They couldn't be declared "rogues 
and killed for they always moved around in groups and the older 
ones mainly took revenge. The Betia forest was bound by barbed 
wires. The elephants are extremely intelligent and they realised 
and obeyed the ban imposed by the barbed wires. 

The headman warned, "For heaven's sake don't come in the 
way of these elephants. Specially the Ekoya. They never forget. 
The youths could no longer pull.their tired bodies. With a sullen 
face they said, "Of course we'll be careful. The Puja has made 
the situation no better. We feel breathless, it aches to pull a 
load." They went carefully. Stole the rock salt with care. They 
remembered Purti's advice. "Don't climb down the trees before 
making sure all the elephants have left." 

Then the salt lick got shifted possibly because of the Ekoya. 
It was made in two-three pockets. Much later when an answer 
was sought to the Ekoya plus jhujhar tribals plus salt lick equation, 
the forest department's explanation was rational indeed. 

The department was in charge of the elephant population, 
both herds and loners. This Ekoya proved particularly wicked. 
It used to wet the salt lick after licking away salt. So the department 
hoped if the lick was split in different pockets the Ekoya might 
go to one while the rest could go to the others. But the Ekoya 
- made all calculations go haywire. It went hither and thither. Since 


it didn't move about with the herd, its sense of time also varied. 
Apart from dawn or dusk it visited the lick at odd hours too. Its 
habit was changing. Maybe it figured out that salt was being 
stolen from the lick. Sometimes it came and stood on the highway 
and didn't budge even at the headlights of jeeps. The jeeps had 
to turn around. Did it begin to suspect men? Did it try to sense 
the presence of humans through its radar-like trunk? 

A tension was growing and building around the elephant 
among the forest workers. Such loners can suddenly be very irra- 
tional. Unless it is denoted as "mankiller" or "rogue" with ample 
proof the forest department does not have powers to kill an ele- 
phant of the reserve forest. 

Everyone waited tensely for something to explode. The forest 
labourers said they were scared to go to work when the Ekoya 
was around. They had seen the Ekoya observing them from a 
distance and had run away in fear. The Ekoya had become suspi- 
cious. So had those who went there to put salt on the lick. They 
had not seen the salt being pawed off to the last bit ever before. 
They couldn't imagine anyone stealing something as cheap as 
salt. No, they didn't report. They never thought this could be 
anything worth reporting. There was so much salt stacked in the 
stores! Even the elephants were puzzled and discontent. Salt 
kept vanishing from the lick. They couldn't make out what was 
going wrong. It seemed everything was baffling. Purti and two 
other youths were responsible for It, for this entire situation. In 
the beginning they were careful, very careful. They would cling 
atop trees at dusk. After the elephants left and even the Ekoya, 
they would come down to take salt. Possibly due to this renewed 
supply of salt their muscles were toned up swifter and attained 
normal mobility. The osmosis of the body became stable and 
the blood coagulation normal thereby enabling the heart to pump 
the blood easily. The electrolyte balance became regular too. 

Possibly. And with this the human brain started having nau- 
ghty designs. They forgot to be careful and began stealing salt 
late afternoon even before the elephants could come and have 
their due. They didn't know the Ekoya had seen them. Suddenly 
the Ekoya's presence in the forest became hardly noticeable. It 
was found that at dusk the elephant stood on the white sands of 


tne river bed and stared at something in the distance. 

What did it see? 

The tribals crossing the river. 

The news wasn't comforting at all. But the forest department 
felt relaxed when it learnt that the animal had changed its target 
of attention. However, it was announced that any information 
on the elephant's activities must be reported. 

A few days later work on the acacia catechu tree had to be 
abandoned. The trees were clustered in the heart of the forest 
on the way to the old Palamau Fort. It was learnt that the Ekoya 
was roaming around the old fort. 

The Palamau Fort was once the fortress of the autonomous 
rulers of Palamau. The sight of the huge, towering stone-and-brick 
structure in ruins in the dense Betia forest is frightfully eerie. Much 
taller than the tallest Sal tree in the green forest, one is unprepared 
for such a gigantic man-made structure in this ambience. So the 
sight of the fortress is really scary. 

The forest labourers saw the Ekoya going past the fort even 
more stealthily than a tiger, sending its trunk out as if in search 
of something. Instantly they abandoned the place. Purti Munda 
and his compatriots possibly didn't get any chance to learn all 
these because they used to always disperse and get lost in the 
forest as soon as they heard footsteps of the forest workers close 
by. To those workers the quantity of missing salt.hardly mattered. 
But Purti and his folks always avoided facing them for the same. 
They feared being caught as "salt thieves" While such misun- 
derstanding persisted, the Ekoya deprived of its share of salt to 
lick and wet, had begun searching for the culprits. It was 
right — ^there was a link between jhujhar and the salt lick. So it 
stood on the white sands of the river bed and stared at Jhujhar 
in the dark. The scene was very symbolic. Palamau Fort in the 

backdrop, river, sands, sky, night, lonely elephant. Very peaceful 

and eternal. The only difference was that the thoughts crossing 
the elephant's mind weren't particularly conducive to flying white 

A few days passed. Then, one night when no one was around, 
the elephant waded across the sandy water to jhujhar and stood 
by the side of the village well. When the night was over all 


opened their doors and came out for their regular morning chores 
to be greeted by the sun rising behind the elephant. They shut 
the doors immediately and were pertified. Observing the animal 
through a gap in his window, Purti Munda kept praying, "O 
God! Let no one dart an arrow. My Lord! Let nobody hit him." 

No one shot an arrow and the elephant left the village and 
went across the river apparently confirming its doubt. They came 
out only after the Ekoya disappeared into the forest and the 
headman said, "So I was right. You all must have been careless. 
He must have seen you. Otherwise why did he come?" 

"Of course not. If he saw us we would have known or seen 
him. An elephant is not like a rabbit." 

"Like an ant, a butterfly, like air. With that huge body he 
can tiptoe if he wishes and trample over your head before you 
even realise. You fool! You shitworm! You didn't see him but 
he saw you. Why else would he have come?" 

"Forget what's happened. Tell us what to do now." 

"Purti, I wonder what punishment you deserve. Those tribals 
who leave the village for mines or cities to work as porters remain 
there. But you came back. You failed and thought that you knew 
the world much better. So you took up cudgels against Uttam- 
chand. He is a tiger. Besides, you have now earned the wrath 
of the elephant." 

"Tell us what to do." 

"No one will go to the forest to get salt. All of you breach 
the roofs of your houses so that you may escape if the elephant 

Purti asked, "Shall we fence the village with thorny bushes 
as they do in the forest? Elephants are scared of that." 

"Such barren, rocky land! How would you fence it? Which 
side would you block?" 


"Don't go for the salt. May be he will forgive." 

They had listened to the headman. No one went to fetch 
salt. Strangely, the elephant didn't come back again. One day 
Purti told the Forest Beat Officer, "The Ekoya had come to our 
village some days ago. We were really scared." 

"We were afraid too. But we haven't seen him for a few 

112/INDIAN literature : 157 

days. Maybe he has returned home." 

Everyone presumed he must have gone back like an uniden- 
tifiable animal vanishing into the green forest. Usually animal 
count is taken on the basis of footprints near a water hole. The 
forest department thought that the Ekoya had disappeared with- 
out taking a look at the river bed or Kamkidaha. 

The Ekoya watched and tried to make out things from the 
bamboo grove which leaned towards the water where the river 
kerbed. The salt lick remained untouched, unspoilt by man's 
unholy presence. Was this a new strategy for attack? Perhaps the 
elephant knew man is basically an irrational animal. To anger 
the elephant and get salt would be irrational. To abstain would 
be rational. But men are not capable of acting logically for veiy 
long. The Ekoya knew the same would apply for Purti and his 
lot too. 

They went ahead with the irrational act. The strangest thing 
was just a week before they did it, Uttamchand had again begun 
selling salt at the weekly market thinking "enough is enough". 
It is not known whether Purti's folks were aware of it. Perhaps- 
not. Or may be they knew but couldn't believe that Uttamchand 
would sell them salt. May be they were tempted to steal salt 
fooling the Ekoya or getting it from right under the elephants 
nose. They wanted to prove their masculinity and skill by doing 
what they thought was a heroic act. Perhaps. They also might 
have wanted to outwit the forest department. What they actually 
thought could not be known. After a lengthy probe it came to 
light that Purti and two others went out with sacks at the crack 
of dawn. They hushed up their wives, assured them of returning 
safe and said they would scrape salt only after the elephants left 
and the sun rose. 

As they proceeded the Ekoya advanced too. The elephant 
is the largest terrestrial animal. But if an angry elephant decides 
to outwit man it could tread more softly than an ant. Taking care 
not to crush dry leaves under its feet. Being unbelieveably cauti- 
ous. So when Purti turned around it seemed the old Palamau Fort 
was approaching them. An elephant looks much bigger than its 
size as it gets nearer though. The elephant silently used its trunk 
and feet but the three men screamed madly. Their cry disturbed 


the elephant herds far and wide and scared the deer. Silence 
quickly replaced the human shriek. Then the Ekoya left, trampling 
the forest and renting the air with a wild trumpet in an almost 
human rejoicement. 

It couldn't be ascertained why such a thing happened. Tram- 
pled and crushed human bodies couldn't help as witnesses or 
evidence. They died stealing salt? Salt? Everyone kept wondering 
and the tribals' behaviour seemed inexplicable to them. Finally 
the police inspector said they must have done it in an intoxicated 

No one complicated the matter by asking whether it was 
the right time of the day for the tribals to be drunk. The entire 
business of stealing salt seemed so strange! Something as cheap 
as salt! Why would they do something so irrational unless they 
were drunk? 

They went to steal salt from the elephants' lick and died! 
The words of the inspector became an epitaph for the dead pro- 
ving that the tribals of jhujhar were not trustworthy at all. Herbi- 
vorous animals needed salt. What if men begin to steal that too! 
This unnatural act of Purti and his kinsmen again emphasised the 
difficulty of preserving wildlife without human interference. 

The Ekoya was declared a "rogue" without its knowledge. 
Since it's a loner the elephant-herd wouldn't be enraged if it was 
killed. A commissioned hunter came and shot it dead. This 
became a small news item in the papers and the Jhujhar folks 
went to have a look at the dead Ekoya. The headman somehow 
felt vaguely uncomfortable. Apparently it was clear that the ele- 
phant had killed men and got killed in turn. But the indirect cause 
seemed to lie elsewhere. So much for salt! They were not sold 
salt. Three men and an elephant wouldn't have had to die if salt 
was available. Someone else was responsible, someone else. 
The one who didn't sell salt? Or some other rule? Some other 
system? The rule and the system which allowed Uttamchand to 
go scotfree for not selling salt? He was extremely inarticulate and 
his vocabulary was so limited that he couldn't explain it to any- 

"This has not been fair at all." He could toss only these few 
words at the babus present there and left the place with his 

114/INDIAN literature : 157 

villagers to return to Jhujhar crossing the white sandy river bed 
in a file. He kept shaking his head knowing fully well that the 
urbanites would never understand how salt could be the root of 
a life-and-death battle and therefore they would always consider 
it unbelievable. So he did not for once turn around to look back. 
Gradually their figures looked diminutive over the white sands. 
They walked fast. They would feel at ease only after returning to 
their own way of life which is bereft of mistrust, which does not 
try to simplify Purti's death and does not attempt to use such 
oversimplification to deny the reality of their existence. To that 

Translated from Bengali by Sarmistha Dutta Gupta 

Tari — A very cheap country liquor 

Kamaldaha — A famous lake in the Palamau region 

Maroa — A kind of gruel 



I T was only last year that I decided to stop living in the big cities 
and settle down in Kerala. I had the occasional feeling that 
with my art products winning greater fame my fingers were los- 
ing their skill. Poverty of experience might be at the back of it, 
I felt. Gradually all my statues became mere repetitions. Art can 
imitate life. I don't complain about that. But if art gets endlessly 

All who came to model for me in the city displayed the spiri- 
tual poverty of city creatures. Their faces were pale, and their 
hair appeared lustreless, with dust from the streets. Their muscles 
were slack like wet cotton. I noted with unease the boils on their 
bellies, the scars left by surgical operations, and the blue veins. 
While free, they inserted cigarettes between burnt lips. They 
pecked at poorie and potatoes brought in tins of candy, and 
urinated and defecated noisily in my bathroom. The briskness 
of their movements got on my nerves. They always showed the 
impatience of individuals disciplined by buses and electric trains. 

I had always wanted to slow down time. And I cultivated 
in myself the patience of a seed lying dormant under the earth. 
My figures took shape slowly, like a plant growing luxuriantly 
into a tree. I worked on verandahs without roofs. My statues, 
exposed to the scorching heat, wind and rain, underwent changes 
I never intended. Nature patted and stroked them and made 
them glitter. Perhaps on account of this, many said they were 
alive. The statues could thus earn the glow which should have 
been present in the models. The sale of my figures brought me 
wealth. But those without any love or art spread scandals about 

116/iNDIAN literature : 157 

me, probably because I had to work looking at naked bodies. 
My husband once told me that those who spread scandals were 
like the sick with a viscous liquid oozing from their lips, and thus 
he taught me that the habit was nothing but a filthy sickness. After 
that the taunts of such people never brought tears to my eyes. 

My husband, at the age of forty-three, was laid up for three 
months with high blood pressure. His right leg and right hand 
were totally paralysed. For some time he lost his power of speech 
too. It was then that I became a professional sculptor. And I took 
up the bread-winner's responsibility. Gradually, he regained eno- 
ugh strength to speak and to walk about in the house with the 
aid of a stick. But he had lost his job by then. He used to stand 
by my side, leaning on his walking stick, as I chiselled away 
without break. And he would say in the softest voice: "Poor girl! 
How unfortunate you are! Fated to live as a total paralytic's wife!" 

I did not deserve the sympathy in his words. Before getting 
transformed into the bread-winner I was just a plaything in the 
hands of my oversexed husband. It was only through a sacrificial 
offering of my body that I could satisfy him. If I had been paralysed 
in his place he would not have put up with me for more than a 
year. He would not have fed and clothed a wife who did not per- 
form her duties on the bed. The priority he gave to sexual satis- 
faction had filled me with fear. It might be due to this that I found 
a secret delight in supporting him. The belief that he couldn't 
now be unfaithful to me added to my health. 

You don't look in the mirror these days?" once he asked 

I am too busy. How can a working woman find time for 
amusing herself looking in the mirror?" I asked. 

You should look in the mirror. You should see for yourself 
how beautiful you've grown these days. Even without applying 
beautifying liquids and paints, you are simply flaming." 

I used to feel immeasurably happy whenever he praised my 
beauty in the old days of idle comfort. Such praise is quite essential 
for a plaything. Such words will help one forget one's dependence 
on another. But, as I gradually realised, one who is financially 
supporting one s husband and relatives and servants with a sense 
of responsibility never needs such praise. I didn't have to make 


him happy by exposing him to a vision of beauty. No such obli- 
gation remained any more. I thought with pride: I'm free. I'm 
not a slave. I've become free from traditional duties. 

My friends advised me to take him to Kerala and give him 
Ayurvedic treatment. That advice too was one of the reasons for 
our displacement. A broker showed me an old na/ukeftu* situated 
on the beach outside city limits. He said the rent would be very 
low as it was an old house. The walls and the roof-tiles had gather- 
ed moss. The iron gate appeared rusty and corroded at many 
places. Beyond the gate and the wall there was a stretch of unus- 
ed land with nettles growing on it and beyond that there was 
the blue sea. The sky above the sea had a peculiar whiteness 
owing, perhaps, to the glitter caused by the sunlight on water. 
The moment I saw the sea and the clouds and the sky I told the 
broker:"! don't want to look at another house." 

Opening the door of the house I entered into the darkness 
with the stench of the excrement of bats and rats. Brushing away 
the dust on the doors and windows, the broker turned to me 
and said: 

"Your ne'er-do-well neighbours will tell you many lies. 
They're envious. They'll even tell you that someone was beaten 
to death in this house. These are just cooked-up stories to keep 
away the tenants." 

The windows were pretty small. The courtyard paved with 
black stones, and also the cylindrical pillars, could be seen from 
the central yard. The house had passages through which air could 
move from south to north and from east to west. 

1 decided to place my statues in a row along the edge of 
the inner courtyard. I would also get plenty of air and light when 
I worked on my statues there. 

"This house will suit me," I told the broker. 

"You don't want to see the bathrooms?" asked my husband. 

I shook my head. 

"I don't want to see anything now," I said. 

Eventually that house became mine — the house that had 
waited alone for years dreaming of me. Indeed, wasn't it that 

A house built in the unique architectural style of Kerala. 

118/INDIAN literature : 157 

dream alone which had kept up that old house? If not, the wind 
and the rain would have brought down its roof and beams and 
pillars long ago. 

I too had a vision of such a house in my dreams for many 
years. Its rusty gate and the unused land covered over with 
brambles and the waves that dashed and rolled beyond that had 
all appeared in my dreams many, many times. The porch, the 
windows, the central courtyard, the pillars, the black soft floor, 
the mossy roof-tiles, and the loft resounding with the beating of 
bats' wings — 1 had seen it all. 

1 engaged an old man to massage my husband with medicinal 
oils and to bathe him. And an old woman joined us for cooking 
and other household chores. The first months 'were happy. 

A rustic girl also arrived to model for me. Sridevi. Hardly 
seventeen years old. Initially she was terribly shy and hesitant. 
Later she started proudly displaying her nudity. I sculpted many 
figures, asking her to pose for me sitting, standing and lying 
down. By noon the girl used to collapse on the floor, exhausted. 
But my figures acquired a peculiar vitality, as though they had 
sucked her lifeblood. As she collapsed like a lifeless doll, i watch- 
ed with wonder the statues, merely her imitations, earning a new 
life and showing off. Perhaps due to the exposure to the sun, 
they had the warmth of human bodies too. That warmth remained 
in the stone and the wood till midnight. 

One day my husband said, looking at the girl, "Stop this 
sculpting! This girl is dead-beat." 

Theie was only anger on his face — anger directed at me. I 
was surprised. This man had never entered my studio, and he 
was now commanding me to stop making statues. 

The girl was lying to her left on the black floor. Her eyes 
were closed. 

"She's okay," I said. 

"Perhaps. But if this continues she'll definitely die. You're 

I e a vampire, sucking blood. Your statues will steal the life of 
your models." 

I looked at the girl's face again. Pale, beautiful face. Cheeks 
like water lillies. Eyes with long lashes. 

Do you think she s beautiful?" I asked my husband. 


"My view has no relevance," he muttered. 

Sridevi: I learned to see through his eyes the beauty of that 
slim body from which you couldn't scrape out even a grain of 
flesh. Meticulously, I transferred to stone the little highs and lows 
and eddies of that body which looked like the peeled twig of a 
jackfruit tree. She used to collapse exhausted whenever I was 
about to complete a figure. That was the weariness of a wild beast. 
By the time I completed six figures, she had started displaying 
the utter exhaustion of a woman who had given birth six times 
in quick succession. Once she begged me with half-closed eyes: 

"Ma, let me go. I'm quite tired." 

I fed her with hot milk. And I massaged her body with 
fragrant oils. 

I loved Sridevi with all the love a sculptor was capable of 
feeling for her model. My husband asked me whether that love 
would fade abruptly when I was finished with her. I did not reply. 
Or — didn't have the courage to reply? I didn't have the heart to 
reveal my dearth of emotion. Perhaps I was afraid that I who 
was regularly clothing and feeding him might lose part of the 
respect he had for me. As 1 was the bread-winner I secretly des- 
pised his dependence and at the same time desired its perma- 
nence. I knew that he would need me only when he was living 
in luxury with no anxiety for the future, sucking my blood like 
a bug. He didn't even pretend to adore me when he had his job. 

How did I wake up that accursed night? How did I wake up, 
hearing nothing and without the drizzle pattering against the 
window? 1 felt an unnatural, pervasive stillness. Could silence 
wake you up from sleep? Carrying an electric torch, I searched 
for my husband in every room. Finally I was shocked to discover 
him making love to Sridevi in the moonlight on the corridor 
outside the kitchen. Both displayed the facial expressions and 
muscular spasms of creatures in agony and that characteristic 
tension which race-horses feel at the end of the race. One mo- 
ment, and 1 fled from the corridor. I felt that I had accidentally 
witnessed some primitive ritual. 

After that I didn't stay in that house for more than half an 
hour. Hadn't I become a stranger there? He might guess that I 
who had always liked to walk along the edge of the sea would 

120/INDIAN literature : 157 

have been washed away by the high tide. That man, 1 felt, who 
could not pay even the next month's rent might start hating the 
girl responsible for his misfortune. And her beauty might suddenly 
turn into deformity. 

The beach was quite dark though streaks of light had appear- 
ed in the east. Darkness that had the colour of smouldering fune- 
ral ashes. Darkness that had the smell of clay that could be used 
for making statues. Did that house, one hundred and fifty years 
old, bid me a silent farewell when I walked away along the edge 
of the Arabian Sea with its countless mouths spewing froth and 

foam like rabid dogs? 

Except for that house, I did not feel any affection, at that 
moment, for any one sleeping there. I told myself: life so far has 
just been a dream. This flight alone is reality. This flight from the 
man 1 had loved once and from the respectable prison of marital 
life. Ignoring the grip of my fingers, the tip of the white saree I 
wore rose with arrogance against my onward rush, like the billow- 
ing sail of a boat. With a ruffle, solitude shrouded me with the 
lightness of a cloud. I had known its touch even from my girlhood. 
My legs lost their balance whenever the sea-wind blew. My feet 
sank in the wet sand full of crab holes. In those moments only 
the newly sprouted grief in my heart bound me to the world. 

The cold sea froze my ankles. When the birds start crying 
in the yard, I thought, or when the sun reaches the central quad- 
rangle, two persons, dead-alive, will rub their eyes, rise and look 
around in the house I have left behind. With heavy footsteps, 
they will run to and fro and search for me in each one of those 


The sun's rays will again fall on the statues along the edge 
of the central courtyard. And they will come alive. The man struck 
with old age and the seventeen-year-old girl will change into 
statues. And they will be mere statues in the sex-act too. Statues 
with the dilated nostrils of race-horses. 

I suddenly felt that the sea had the smell of corpses. I ran 
forward like a kite about to take flight, swinging my arms so that 
my limbs did not freeze in the wind. At that moment I saw 
through the corner of my right eye the sun rising in the east. 

Translated from Malayalam by C.K. Mohamed Ummer 





1 tried, my utmost to do as you said. Tried to change every- 
thing and build new dreams. But I did not get lost simply in my 
dreams, Ma; I indeed worked hard to fulfil those I had. The many 
sleepless nights, those innumerable moments which cowered 
before pain, that I suffered without a thought. And you used to 
worry just because I laughed my way through life. Was it my 
own laughter, Ma? This body is soaked in the consciousness of 
an ordinary human being of flesh and blood. It was only your 
existence inside me that made me laugh on, as if I had not a 
care in this world. Not only did I learn the secret of laughter 
from you; I also learned the mantra of loving pain and hardship, 
of loving life. Could you ever imagine how the river of blood 
flowed on inside when your ever-smiling daughter's lips opened 
with bursts of laughter? 

Ma, how without a word of protest I shouldered those res- 
ponsibilities heaped on me. How I managed so well to overcome 
the grievances of the family — of both parents-in-law, of sister and 
brother-in-law, and of my husband and children. Nobody can- 
ever tell you that you didn't know how to bring up your daughter! 
You must have heard praises, I am sure, as to how good a 
daughter-in-law 1 was! And how that must have made you happy! 

But now, Ma, I don't wish to dream any more. Life has 
become so mechanical that my shoulders are weary with the 
loads 1 bear. 1 can run no longer, 1 have lost my quickness. Today 
I observe you, Ma, and see in spite of your advancing years the 
undiminished enthusiasm with which you have your early morn- 

122/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 157 

ing bath and worship the sun. Also how your zest for life scatters 
like abundant pollen everywhere, as you hold on to those 
moments that have gone by in your routine-bound existence! 1 
don't even know what nectar you spill as you circle round like 
a homing pigeon. I have never noticed your weariness nor have 
seen you anytime, downcast or sorrowful. Although 1 am un- 
aware of what you do, secreted inside the pu/a-room. Not only 
I, but Father too, I feel certain, know nothing of those silent 
moments of yours, this moon's unseen face. And this other side 
is not just a matter of a few minutes. I don't know if you try to 
measure the depth of your fulfilment during this time, Ma! But 
afterwards, your fair and bright countenance splashes like sunlight 
around the house. And 1, take my nourishment from it like a 
tiny, new sapling. Today, even if 1 don't see you, your face 
looms-up in front of me, all the time. And that is enough. 

I remember when I was leaving, you had hugged me and 
said, "Daughter, don't be afraid. No one can live on in this world 
in fear. One has to bring out that power from within oneself and 
face the world. Our ways are dark. It's only the light of one's 
own eyes which shows the way. Can one live with another all 
his life? Still, my soul will always be there beside you, like your 
own shadow." 

Then you patted your moist eyes with your sari and in a sud- 
den gesture took a little vermilion from the parting in your hair 
to put it in mine. Mothers ordinarily do not do this. 

From that day on I tried to give shape to my dreams in plan 
and action. Through all these years. Now there seems to be a 
huge emptiness inside. But why? There are no great worries at 
home. Your son-in-law is and has always been a child, the grand- 
children are no doubt insensitive, but they are not without reason 
or worth. ( have earned a name in the work 1 do. And no one 
has ever pointed a finger at me for anything. 

When these successes wave their flags of victory around 
me, I see no reason for this weariness 1 feel. Why don't I get the ' 
fulfilment you have? Why is there so much of restlessness, so 
much of emptiness in me? Has the sound of your anklets been 
,|ost in the body of the sea's sands or have you sat down some- 
where, tired and weary? I don't know if 'I should look back or 


not, Ma. i cannot understand why the air outside is choked with 
suspicion and unbelief! 

And I realise, Ma, if ! look back you will turn into stone. 
And if I take a step ahead. I'll place my feet in fathomless deeps. 
I am unable to see my way. Yet, my whole being scents like the 
cluster of mango blossoms in a branch of the tree that embraces 
the earth. A storm seems imminent in the sky. 

Can you tell me, Ma, why Is it that I am not able to achieve 
your fulfilment in my consciousness? What have I done, Ma? 
Why can't I do as you? Why is this weariness of mine? 

Your daughter. 

The world appeared more blurred to Ma when she read the letter 
in the already-blurring light of her eyes. Her daughter's ruffled 
hair falling across her sweat-covered face, suddenly danced 
before her. At times she had seen the glint of a tear in those eyes 
half hidden by the long hair. She had appeared not to notice it. 
A clay figure can be set right if the mind is torn apart by little 
things, not a being of flesh and blood. So she had accepted the 
ways of life and had remained silent. But what was this? Her 
daughter was never the one to be exhausted after these many 
years. What then had brought on this fatigue in her? And where 
did she herself have the strength, both in mind and body, that 
she would rush off, getting over a two-day-long journey! Couldn't 
her daughter understand how difficult it was for her to travel and 
be near her? 

Ma wiped her glasses and read the letter again. Some con- 
cealed pain made her shiver. Time and again she went into the 
pu/a-room and shut the door, locking herself in. Her god's face 
was unchanged, as of everyday. Until today she had told him 
all; now she had to tell her daughter a few things, sitting before 
him. Ma looked at her own face in the mirror. Nothing there, 
no beauty at all under the wrinkled skin and bone. None of the 
sunlight or pollen that radiated earlier from her eyes. She felt 
weary all of a sudden, seeing herself. She straightened herself 
and sat down. Had her daughter's weariness entered her some- 
how? She closed her eyes and looked at her god and saw her 
daughter's face float before her. The sweaty face of a child. 

124/iNDIAN literature : 157 

Dear daughter, 

I got your letter. I was delighted to receive a long one from 
you after so long. You don't have the time to come here, and I 
don't have the strength to come to you even though I have the 
time. Still, I am there by your side, like your own shadow. 

You seem a little tired, my daughter. This happens. Who 
does not get tired? I was too, on life's long road. At times I have 
sat down under a tree, at other times waited in the harsh noonday 
sun by the road, my skin on fire. Sometimes blinded by sunlight, 
sometimes walked on fearlessly in the total dark of a moonless 
night. Laughing or crying. Then, living for a moment during the 
whole day, to die in the next, and be resurrected again. Do you 
know who made me fall and made me get up, who killed me 
and brought me to life again? It was I myself, the I who is only 
mine; nobody else was there with me. Nor was there anyone to 
whom I could turn for help at any time that I can remember. 
How very different the times are, that and this, like between 
heaven and hell! And so I couldn't have told anyone what I went 
through. Who would have listened to me? 

Once, I remember, I had complained of something before 
your father. He was getting ready to leave for his office. It was 
as though he hadn't heard what I had said. When I repeated my 
words, he had answered gruffly, "I don't forget what I hear once. 
Is it necessary for you to remind me?" Suddenly how strange, 
how stern had this face of a man I'd known for years become — a 
man who usually smiled and was prone to light-hearted banter! 
It was as if my feet had lost their wings and had come down in 
unknown deeps. How could I have imagined I'd meet a stranger 
after so many years? From then on I never said anything to him, 
nor did I face that stranger again. 

Another time, in the midst of some talk, your grandmother 
reproached my father. She never said anything to me about the 
dowry I had brought along when I was married; on the other 
hand, she extolled every virtue of rpine. On that occasion, how- 
ever, I had answered back in anger. Her face tore open in obvious 
irritation, it seemed as if every visage of motherhood had vanished 
in a moment. I was amazed, shocked. The entire world suddenly 
* npeared poor to me. And later, I began to ignore whatever she 
even tried not to go into the meaning of such words when 


I overheard them. 

Have you observed the mimosa plant, my daughter? Seen 
the millipede of the monsoon months? How it curls itself into a 
tiny ball when touched? My whole life long I have been that. 
But now I feel certain of one thing, that all of them could not 
have gone on without my help. And so, like the new day, I was 
reborn every morning. I never found the time to look into myself.. 
I wonder whether you have seen much of me, but I have never 
considered looking carefully at myself. 

You speak of being whole, of fulfilment. Is fulfilment some- 
thing which can be bought? Can it be gifted to someone if he 
wants to? You still remember, don't you, of the tale of the 
crocodile befriending a monkey! The more one comes closer to 
someone, the more one eats into the other. But can one remain 
conscious and alert at all times? I realise now how my insides 
must have been eaten up. Or is it that I have thrown my heart 
away? Or else why should 1 be experiencing this vast emptiness 
after reading your letter? 

If you think that I possess this deep sense of fulfilment, then 
I'd say it is but the simplicity of an innocent child. The companion 
of my joys and sorrows is only my god who is there before me. 

I have surrendered myself to him. To him my pain and tears, my 
losses and agonies. 

But you will find no use for the key to my own fulfilment. 
You have to seek within yourself, find for yourself the key you 
need. You are knowledgable and intelligent, and you possess 
the gift of searching for things, with the glittering world before 
you. Never try to become an innocent child. Your discontent 
will disappear slowly on its own. 

A whole new world lies right before you. That god who 
kept my own faith alive will certainly keep your path clear for 
you. But remember, my child, the circle of fulfilment is always 
limited, while unfulfilment grows on, boundless. 1 do not know 
myself how far is the reach of that boundlessness. I believe you 
can touch the horizon of that infinite. The deeper the measure 
of unfulfilment, the closer to you will be your fulfilment. 

Be well. 

Your Ma. 

Translated from Oriya by Jayanta Mahapatra D 





J INGLI, her mother had always said, was a headstrong girl. Her 
father spoiled her, the child of his old age. He had had sons 
with his other wives but then, late in life, he had taken another wife 
and she had produced Jingliben, his only daughter. 

When the village children played games it was always Jing- 
liben who chose the best places to hide, who held out the longest 
in scary places where ghosts and headless monsters were said 
to live, who was known for her complete honesty, never changing 
her story or telling a lie to escape punishment. She climbed the 
tallest trees just like a boy and in any rough and tumble she gave 
as good as she got. Unlike the other girls, jingli never cried. Not 
in public. 

Her mother had also said that if she didn't change her ways, 
jingliben would know trouble, because girls are not meant to be 
that way. "She has the spirit of a boy", said both her father and 
her mother. Her father had said it with pride, but her mother s 
voice was full of foreboding. She knew that the world her daughter 
must inhabit had no place for women such as she. "It is better , 
she told her heedless daughter, "to bend with the wind. See 
how the bamboo bends and does not break while the wind 
sweeps down and smashes proud plants that stand tall and try 
to look the wind in the eye." 

But that was not Jingli's way. She looked the wind in the 
eye and refused to bend; she just laughed at her mother's tales 
of doom. 


When her father died she was still very young. Her brothers, 
many years older than herself, arranged her marriage and her 
mother, now a helpless widow, had to acquiesce in the arrange- 
ments. The bridegroom chosen for fifteen year old Jingliben was 
a young farmer from the neighbouring village of Bordeli. He was 
not a very bright young man but he was hardworking and owned 
a small piece of land, a herd of cows and some goats. Jingli's 
brothers paid him a dowry and gave twenty five thousand rupees 
for the marriage, which included a feast for the entire village of 

On the wedding day, after the simple ceremonies were over, 
everybody gathered for the feast and Jingliben looked around 
her at the assembled villagers, a few hundred people. All the 
faces that surrounded her were unfamiliar and as she looked at 
them through her veil she felt a shudder of fear go through her, 
shaking her entire body. She was astonished by the feeling 
because there was little that jingliben was afraid of. She glanced 
at her husband who sat placidly eating his food, surrounded by 
his friends. There was nothing there to frighten her, Somalabhai 
Ramsinh looked entirely harmless. As if sensing her stare, the 
young man looked up and smiled in her direction and instead 
of casting her eyes down and looking shy, jingli smiled back, 
tossing her head so that the veil fell back from her face. 

There were those who noticed the interchange. "A bold 
girl", said one and the others concurred. It was not usual for the 
villagers to disagree with Inderiya Ramsinh. He was the local 
witch doctor and a very powerful man. His eyes seemed to look 
through people and they were never sure what he saw but the 
consequences could be awful. He went on; "We will have to 
teach her the ways of Bordeli, the ways of our women." The 
others nodded and everyone looked away. 

It was as if a cloud had come over the day. jingli looked up 
straight into Inderiya's eyes; for a long moment their gaze caught 
and held. It was a contest of wills and neither was prepared to 
give in. It was, of course, jingli who should have looked away 
as a modest shy young bride ought. But that was not her way. She 
stared right back at the man and finally, it was he who glanced 
aside and Jingli smiled triumphantly. She should have known 
better, but jingli as her family and friends would have said, never 

128/INDIAN literature : 157 

could resist any sort of challenge. She had sensed a challenge 

The years passed in the way they do in a small remote vil- 
lage. Bordeli is a tribal village and the inhabitants keep very much 
to themselves and away from outsiders. Somalabhai and Jingli 
lived together quite happily although neither of them would have 
thought to say so; happiness was not something concrete that 
one could lay hands on, taste or smell. They were not unhappy 
with each other although Somalabhai would have jiked one more 
son. He liked the food his wife cooked and he liked to sleep 
with her at night. In every other way, life went on for him exactly 
as it had before he married. 

Jingliben was content, too. She had a son and two daughters 
and there was enough to eat and drink for all of them. Somalabhai 
did not beat her as many of the other husbands in the village 
beat their wives, especially when they had drunk too much liquor, 
a common enough occurrence, and he gave her enough money 
to buy things such as the silver jewellery she loved. 

She had made friends in the village; she and a group of other 
women went down to the river together to bathe and wash clo- 
thes and there they gossiped and played games until it was time 
to return to their households. Jingliben climbed up trees and col- 
lected fruit and nuts; she was, her friends said, like a squirrel, 
her hands and her mouth always filled to overflowing. She had 
a merry spirit and she loved to play pranks on her friends, jumping 
out at them, pretending to be a bhootini, .scaring them out of 
their wits. She could tell the most frightening stories that no one, 
not the most timid among them, could resist, so full were they 
of colour and sound and atmosphere. 

Many of Jingli's best stories were about witches. There had 
always been witches in the village; women who had supernatural 
powers, who could heal the sick or bring about terrible sickness 
with just one glance. They were not women to be crossed lightly, 
not unless you were a witch yourself, one with greater power. 
It was not a good thing to be known as a witch; women with 
power of any sort are dangerous and men know that this cannot 
be tolerated. When things go wrong there has to be a reason 
and usually it is a woman. Beating to death was the way the 
men of Bordeli had always dealt with witches in their midst. 


Then one day the terrible sickness known as Cholera came 
to Bordeli. Many people died. To make matters worse, several 
animals, cows and goats, died as well of some mysterious disease 
that no one could understand, let alone withstand. Cattle are the 
wealth of a tribal village. Death was sudden. 

Inderiya was the strongest of the witch doctors, feared by 
both men and women and possibly, even by the gods, so the 
villagers turned to him. 

Inderiya cast a burning glance on the assembled villagers 
and seemed to go into a trance. He spoke in a slow sepulchral 
voice unlike his own normal deep tone and for the desperate 
villagers he had one answer: find the dankan (witches) in your 
midst and destroy them. 

He called for seven days of fasting and under the giant 
banyan tree on the outskirts of the village he installed the village 
deity Baba Dev. While the villagers danced around him, Inderiya 
Ramsinh went into a deep trance. As the villagers prolonged the 
day's fasting beyond the usual twelve hours, more men, about 
ten of them, went into a trance. They claimed to be possessed 
by the mother goddess. Sakti, supernatural feminine power is 
the only kind that men can accept. Men thus possessed are 
treated with great respect because the deity only enters the minds 
of those who are completely pure. 

The fasting continued over the next few days and the village 
of Bordeli was in a state of intense excitement; the villagers were 
like dry wood just before a torch is lit. On the fifth day of fasting, 
Inderiya called out in a great voice that the mother goddess had 
told him that the troubles of the village were due to witches. 

The possessed men then proceeded to light incense sticks. 
Everyone was suddenly still, they all knew what was about to 
happen. The possessed men would be told by the mother goddess 
who among the women gathered there were witches. The men 
stopped before each woman, held out their incense sticks and 
then smelled them. From the smell, they said, they could tell 
which ones were witches. A number of women were selected and 
forced out of the throng into the centre. None of the women 
dared to move, to seem to recoil. Inderiya stopped in front of 
Jingli and stared at her. Jingli drew in her breath in a sharp hiss. 

130/INDIAN literature ; 157 

but her eyes did not look away. Their eyes locked and held and 
Jingli recalled her wedding day. She had not given in then and 
she would not now. She tossed her head and stared him in the 
eye. Inderiya gave a sign and Jingli was dragged out, away from 
her unresisting husband. 

As they circulated among the crowd the men drew out about 
twenty women and isolated them. Twelve of them knew at once 
what would follow and they fell to the ground, begging the witch 
doctor's forgiveness. That was not enough. Each one was com- 
manded to state how many humans and animals they had consu- 
med. "I ate my neighbour's children" said one. "I ate the goats 
and cows" said others. 

Eight women, jingli among them, refused to admit that they 
were witches. As the sun rose among the palm trees, they were 
beaten with sticks and coconuts. Patili, jingii's best friend, held 
out for as long as she could then with a despairing look at her 
friend, she cried out that she was indeed a witch and had 
repented. Another woman, Hirli, her palms and ankles swollen 
by repeated beatings, also confessed. Finally, as the women 
recanted, only Jingliben and another woman named Chelbai 
were left. Inderiya raised his hand and everybody was silent, 
even the weeping women and their wailing children muffled the 
sounds of their pain. 

Inderiya pulled Chelbai forward. In a sudden dramatic move- 
ment he seized her by her hair which fell in rippling length down 
her back. Then he called out the woman's five year old son. As 
the boy stepped forward, hanging his head, Inderiya commanded 
him to cut off his mother's long, flowing hair. The child hesitated 
and began to cry. Inderiya raised his bony hand and scowled at 
the child. Reluctantly, sensing that he had no support, the boy 
moved forward and began the task. Weeping, Chelbai finally 
admitted that she was a witch. 

Now only jingliben was left. But she refused to confess. "I 
am not a witch, I have done nothing", she kept screaming. The 
villagers tried to persuade her to give in but she remained stead- 
fast. All day she was beaten but she would not change her stand. 
As darkness fell the villagers returned home. 

That night Somalabhai asked jingli: "Are you a witch?" "No 


I am not" she replied as she attended to her injuries, "no 1 am 
not a witch and I shall not say that I am. No one can make me 
do that." 

Later, they asked Somalabhai: "Did you believe her?" 
"Yes", he replied simply. 

Late that night, fearing more beating the next day, jingliben 
rose from bed and limped her way more than ten kilometres to 
the next village where her brother lived. As she had expected, 
the next morning Inderiya and his cohorts were at her husband's 
door demanding that he hand over his wife. Somalabhai told 
them that she was gone. In a matter of minutes he had told 
Inderiya where his wife had gone. Two men were sent after her 
and in the late afternoon they returned dragging Jingli with them. 
Her feet, hands and face were swollen from the previous day's 
beatings but no one dared interfere. Inderiya and the villagers, 
including her husband, were waiting for her under the huge 
banyan tree. Terrified, Jingliben's eyes looked at the assembled 
villagers, hundreds of them. They were the same people who 
had been at her wedding feast not so long ago. No one came 
to her rescue and she did not expect them to. No one dared 
challenge the god man Inderiya. A hush fell on the assembled 

Inderiya seemed to be praying. Then he stooped and lifted 
up a coconut. Everyone gasped, a collective sound of fear and 
expectancy, jingliben screamed as the first blow descended on 
her head. A few more blows and then there was silence. It was 
all over. Jingliben's body lay crumpled on the ground, her skull 
broken. It was her fault, wasn't it? Why did she refuse to admit 
that she was a witch? That was all they wanted, a confession 
and surely a woman must know her place. 

Bordeli gives no indication of what took place on that after- 
noon. Life goes on, perhaps they do indeed believe that the gods 
were avenged for the wrongs done by the witches. Somalabhai 
looks contended enough. The villagers have pooled together 
enough money so that he can get another wife and soon they 
will have a marriage feast for the entire village. 

(This story is based on a report in The Indian Express Nov. 28, 1 992) D 




D awn cracked its opal glaze on the red clay earth of the 
village, Gowribidhanoor woke up in the stench-filled 
sprawling yawns of old mouths cracking into consciousness with 
holy hymns. In the course of morning ablutions they sang of 
nymph-like goddesses and called them down from towering 
mountains to do battle with kingdoms of terror. 

The hymns were a tattoo of prosperity. In Gowribidha- 
noor songs of valour and fertility camouflaged the dead earth 
that sprouted no grain. The trade made new merchants 
dream of valour and so dreams were dressed with voices like 
turbans with gems. Ballads and yawning chants gave a curtain 
of glamour to this village of clay. 

Gowribidhanoor was a famous village as far back as the 
time of Tipu Sultan. ^ Earthen jars and palace pottery were made 
from red clay which would kill paddy shoots that dared to trespass 
its layers of monsoon-nicked colours and shades. The clay was 
a chameleon. Green near the swamp, red in the ditches, purple 
near the lotus pond. The flowers and reeds had been annexed 
to another kingdom of fortification by cobwebs, colourful insects 
with dazzling silk-gauze wings lived in pomp. The truth was, the 
village had in the times of kings made giant jars for oil and grain 
for the palace, even drums for the treasury. 

For now, the words warped out of the naked silence with 
the fragrance of monsoon fungus on banana leaves. Sounds that 
soothed the bent backs of crumpled sleep, the arching of backs 
to the dim light of a day as fine as the haze of new cobwebs. 
Ahaaaaaaa rolled thick on betel clogged mouths ... with an aban- 


don of zest to the winds of fatigue. Dhud ... Dhudh ... haa .. 
ahha. The winds of determined beat ... lungs and hearts in morn- 
ing rhythm as pious bellies pushed wind down in their guts and 
washed feet in the shanty groves of bananas. 

Gowri awoke with the wind whistling through the cur- 
tains of cobwebs on her clay window frame ... yesterday the 
bush of jasmines by the window had died and the cow had 
licked up the shrivelled leaves like an old woman chewing betel 
nut after a wedding banquet. She had spent a century of opaque 
dawn mist ... casting her eyes in a thousand tunnels of light 
through the cobwebs to see if a jasmine bud had burst through 
the dead black-green stem of the stubborn bush ... 

She threw her shoulders back on the mat with new vigour, 
it bruised the murmuring of her heart, this twisted death of a 
bush that did not yield to fragrance. The clay was red like fire 
and a cock's belly where the bush had withered unnourished by 
the earth ... a pool of dog's blood in a basin. The rain water 
was caught in a bowl of clay. In Gowribidhanoor women wore 
no flowers in the hair ... flowers came from the trotting hooves 
of market mares. The trader women all wore flowers .. flowers 
were favours from other worlds. Here only wild thorny flowers 
grew. Only the tribals at the edge of the forest would be seen 
with blossoms that god had created for the insects. Wild red and 
purple blossoms that brewed heady incense in magnetic vapours 
for the snakes that lived in the roots of trees, blossoms that 
withered when plucked, bruised by even the faintest rays of 

Gowri unfurled her toes and clinked water-like drops of 
sound, she clucked her mouth in pebbles of sound ... Her voice 
could thread the hymns into engraved colours like the mythic 
goddess of hymns, but she liked the humble accord of sounds 
like fruits in her mouth, rolling sounds .. In the shop she sang 
ballads, it attracted traders ... she could make the Tiger's eye 
ball as big as the moon when she sang. The shop flourished as 
traders flexed ripples of tattooed muscles at the reflection in 
Grandmother's bridal mirror ... Her songs were, in a way, about 
things that made them proud, about being male and travellers 
through forests. They bought Sidhanna's pots with gusto ... 

134/iNDIAN literature : 157 

Though they only grunted at Gowri's engraving on the clay, 
everyone knew that the magic in her thumbs brought traders to 
the door like doves to the grain-house. Gowri clinked the silver 
bells on her feet, how does one sing of the rain ... how can 
sounds fall like petals? 

Sidhanna, Gowri's father, had been a child dacoit, like his 
father ..later he had come back to the village to make pots, of 
his previous life only sorne swords remained. They hung near a 
framed picture of Bhadrakali^ ... lizards slept on the rusty blades 
and clucked their trapdoor tongues in conversation with the god- 

In fact Sidhanna had brought back very little from the bandits' 
cave, no gold, no silver, just a ferocious and malignant temper. 
He used to mind the bandits' horses, spur them, feed them and 
brush them till their coats shone black as the night skies. They 
said he was driven out of the caves for having been treacherous. 
The bandits had not disbanded, with the Indian Government in 
power they could no longer buy immunity with contributions to 
the anti-British rebels. Sad days had fallen upon the brave bandits, 
they fled on sick, mangy horses from forest to village without the 
courage to dig into the roots of the land. Rumour had it that they 
convened at the desecrated temple of Siva, at the edge of Gowri- 
bidhanoor. It was said that somewhere in the loose stones of the 
temple a king's fortune had been concealed. 

Beyond the temple were paddy fields edging out to a forest. 
A scavenging community had settled there and started cultivating 
the land, the crop a thin yield just enough to fill the belly, no 
surplus for the market. Perhaps the scavengers had defiled the 
temple, no one knew . . . People said the smell there was enough 
to choke you to death ... rotting guts of wild pigs and other forest 
animals. But the story went that the temple had been abandoned 
even before the scavengers came and started to grow spinach 
in the ditches. Thick drapes of rumour wrapped around the 
temple, people were afraid to speak of it even in their bravest 

Talkies had just come in from the nearest town. The horse- 
cart with posters of sensuous women with sea-like tresses blasted 
songs of love on megaphones. These were the new kings from 


the celluloid empires in Bombay ... announcing their wares like 
decrees from a royal court. These new goddesses heralded the 
reign of dreams, of fulfilment on earth ... without the resonant 
timbre of hymns they brought the whole world into an orbit of 
vision. Time and connection with aeons of creation had been 
the text of hymns ... the talkies spoke of now. The dazzling 
splendour of foreign lands. The thuncfer of talkies music blared 
like heaven changing destination. Three villages away they were 
blasting mountains with dynamite laying out tunnels for trains. 
The traders spoke of motor cars in the towns. The talkies 
horse-cart was announcing the new times .. but few took notice. 
Elders, insulted by the mechanical blast of alien voices, took to 
singing hymns louder ... it distorted pitch, timbre snapped into 
a screech, but the dissonance did not affect the robust tempera- 
ment of the village. 

In a land which intersects the passage of human beings accor- 
ding to the bounty of nature, there were many in these times who 
crossed the threshold of taboos. Young men who were neither 
potters nor farmers cultivated a poetic leisure in watching the 
times change. They whistled tunes from films and smoked cigaret- 
tes behind bushes where horses urinated ... they made taverns 
out of temples and wild forest. They chasedvthe talkies horse-cart 
and tore at the posters in an attempt to caress the celluloid 
goddess. The scraps became objects of reverence, a peculiar, 
tender-twisted worship. 

These young men wandered miles to watch the trains in nei- 
ghbouring villages, motor cars in the town. According to rumour 
these high priests of idleness shared liquor with the bandits ... 
and with the women of the scavenging community. Yet they 
were innocent of the times. In the temple of Siva they convened 
with the scraps of talkies treasure and praised an arm, shoulder, 
an eyebrow with exasperating eloquence. The scraps of paper 
shone in the stone-dust haze of the temple. Yet they were oblivi- 
ous to the voluptuous and erotic sculpture of dancing figures on 
the walls of the temple, it was as if the world of trains and tunnels 
had made their hearts as fragile as the paper they now worshipped. 

The rains came like a drummer's fingers on tile roofs, the chilli 
bushes glowed with green vigour and horses sloshed through 

136/INDIAN literature : 157 

the streets. The clay was too slushy to work with and the kilns 
would not fire. In Sidhanna's house there was a melancholic 
stupour. They said the rains made him nostalgic for the bandits 
cave ... during the rains the festival of Bhadrakali had been 
celebrated. The children had to polish swords with oil to prevent 
rust. The goddess was offered bison meat roasted on a spit. They 
ate the meat and drank liquor brewed with cardamom and cloves. 
In the evenings the minstrels sang and danced with cymbals. The 
bandits did a sword-dance before the goddess and there were 
gypsy women with coloured skirts. Sidhanna coughed till the 
memory of monsoons in the caves splintered into needles in his 
chest. This wet earth, looking like a buffalo's raw hide blotched 
with blood, killed his soul. 

Gowri ground pepper and ginger into the tea. It was good 
for Sidhanna's cough. Shehummed... “O' goddess with polished 
emeralds of the deep sea in your eyes, I will braid you a girdle 
of lotus for your waist ... give me your anklet bells of rose petals 
... so I too can dance In perfection. Break the light of the universe 
into a thousand prisms and give me your crown of Dawn 
I can worship you in eternal youth . " 

Once, only once, she had visited her mother's sister in the 
hills. The clay tile roof had been canopied with a profusion of 
curly crimson petals of hibiscus, the pillars twined with perfume- 
drenched jasmines. Mangoes hung from every twig in the wide 
branches of the sprawling tree, guavas, custard apples, wild 
organges, jackfruit. It was a house of mother earth herself. Oh, 
how she had sung, her voice leaping like the pendulum in temple 
bells, her throat dissolving into waves of the river Kaveri. Every 
dawn they had made thick fragrant garlands for the gods with 
rose petals and buds. Pepper vines had curled around the Sam- 
pige"* tree, eyes of a thousand baby sparrows studded the 
fleshcoloured bark. Rain had seeped into the earth like a child's 
feet in a bowl of dough ... it fell like a curtain of glass beads in 
the thick wilderness of huge green leaves shining, shimmering, 
swaying as if the rain drops and the leaves were in deep conver- 
sation. The rains fell to different music, where earth was sheltered 
with trees and soil woven with flowers. 

Birds gurgled with happiness as if the rainbow had unfurled 


their wings in myriad colours. Turquoise blue, emerald green, 
red as a chilli ... birds like daytime stars in the cloud-laced sky. 
Not ravens, vultures and crows which pock-marked the pale 
yellow haze of light in the village. 

After her mother died there was no occasion to visit the 
hills. The whole house depended on her . . . Sidhanna, her brother 
Thimmayya and Agi, Sidhanna's mother. Gowri had notyet learnt 
to feel resentful, she swept the cooking-house, brush-reeds of 
the broom swaying gently. Her engraving the pots ... had started 
as fun, now she was locked to the clay with her thumbs. When 
her mother's sari had frayed the exquisite weave of the borders 
had remained ... she patterned those on clay. In a village where 
all potters made the same kind of pots for centuries, something 
was needed to light a spark of difference. Gowri's borders did 
that for Sidhanna. He needed her to entertain the traders. So the 
hills were as distant as paradise for Gowri. 

She shuddered at the fragrant opulence of growth in her 
aunt's home, the sound of rain hitting bare ground came like a 
desolate cry to her ears. Wind whipping, lashing the rain, the 
hair of rain swayed like a woman who had lost all sense of 
direction in the mists of sorrow. 

The traders had taken their families to the city ... they said 
Queen Victoria was visiting Bangalore. The traders always told 
tall tales, they exaggerated everything to enhance their own 
importance ... Gowri sighed, it must be beautiful to be a queen, 
she would have worn flowers every day. 

Thimmayya jumped on the branch of the dead-wood tree 
where vultures crowned contorted twisted spiraling arches. He 
lashed the tin sword at twigs with no sap to bleed. From some 
alien films he had learnt the language of war, his throat thundered 
like roaring tracks of army tanks ... through the smoke-hazed 
sunset-bleeding dust storms. World War II, he said. Father 
spanked his plump round bottom with the buttermilk ladle, 
"Saku, huchtanan bidu. Hogi, kelsa mad thiya, eliadre ..."^ 

But Thimmayya continued to pock-mark the tree with his 
rusted sword. The rains had left not even a film of moisture on 
the coarse bark of the tree. This was a child's game killing a dead 
monster. Huk, hukkk, chuukk, thrirr ... he coritinued. Father 

138/INDIAN literature : 157 

was drunk. The rains had killed the fires and kilns could not be 
lit. There was no work to do but fight with this dead tree. So the 
tanks rolled with raw-mango acid from the velvet sap-silk throat 
of a wise and anxious child. The black and white films shimmering 
like the theatre of the gods on Virupaksha's mahotsavam^ sheet 
had opened some strange gallery in his dreams, he entered ano- 
ther world of power ... he dreamt of battleships embarking on 
the shores of his imagination. 

Thousands of battleships from every corner of the world 
filled with the harvest of goodness and virility tied the girdle of 
their anchors in the harbour of his imagination ... "Sai. Sai. Baddi 
maga sai ... he lashed at the dead-tree imagining it to be that 
funny man with a moustache. "Yeli Aytler" or something like 
that ... 

The rains tore lotus-petals of clay away from her body. Hands 
that moulded pots spinning on the wheel now wanted to relate 
to the magnificence of the human form. She had heard of the 
statues of dancing Siva and Parvati® in the temple. Her curiosity 
grew as immense as rain clouds from the North-East. But she 
remembered the conversation that had taken place in the acid 
spring of impervious earth. 

The old woman who sold shrivelled up jasmines outside the 
temple was a fallen goddess. She braided jasmines with weather- 
ed old black hands and chewed betel leaf. A drizzle of red blood- 
like spittle sprayed out of her foul stinking mouth and desecrated 
the flowers of worship. The story went this woman had been 
seduced by Siva, after which she went mad and stuck to the 
earth of the temple like a dead tree, waiting for her nemesis. 
Hearing the story Gowri had made a mistake in her engraving, 
scratched a deep line away from the border. 

Her brother said that young boys discussed "bad" things 
there. But the death-like passions of the violent monsoon stirred 
thunder in Gowri's ankles. She wanted to melt the granite statues 
in the furnace of her heart and make them dance. 

Gowri loved the new times ... in her hymns she could whistle 
the shrill hiss of the meter gauge railway trains .. in her heart the 
blasting of boulders by dynamite was the intonation of thunder 
... she could communion with airplanes and butterflies alike ... 


But her sense of romance was as ancient as the rock caves in 
Dandeli. She would have to perform the dance of the new times 
in Siva's temple. 

Today she would learn to carve the thunder in her insteps. 
She went into the temple ignoring the warped-witch smile of the 
old woman. Centuries of rock-muscle unfurled in her limbs and 
she tortured her body in exquisite perfection. Her legs like a 
dhanush^ she aimed her arrow of passion at the god of thunder. 
Thus she danced everyday in the monsoons. She learnt the tan- 
dava^° step by step .. in the footprints of lizards and to the beat 
of bats' wings, in the stench of ancient animal sacrifices. 

Airplanes whispered jets of air in her lungs, the revolving 
lenses of the talkies swivelled in her eyes ... the man-made thun- 
der of blasting dams swirled in the muscles of her thighs. The 
twentieth century pulsated in her veins. Yet her theatre was this 
primeval orbit. 

The dance of the monsoon Apsaras^^ who could not penet- 
rate this dead earth flared in her the Tire of Surya.’^ she danced 
like dawn breaking into daylight ... her limbs like the rays of the 
burning sun ... supple yet brilliant. 

As she swirled like a planet in orbit a strange warrior from 
a dead civilization held her in his arms with a vice-like grip ... 
he held her in the tentacles of a mating dance ... when she 
protested he said, "Yaake, ni Siva ge naach taidiya ... Naan ne 

The autonomy of her axis was held in check by his vice-like 
grip, in his dense heart she could hear no pounding of the new 
times ... there was death in this intimacy ... her dance had been 
brought to a preempted conclusion ... The warrior god would 
never allow her to complete her dance ... she thought of the 
lizards on Bhadrakali's swords ... and understood their linguistic 
hallucinations. She tore herself away from his death-like grip and 
ran ... from the darkness towards light. 

She ran towards the bright pink canopy where the puppet 
show was performing with masks of elephants and tigers, children 
were enacting the drama of how Gowri fell from grace of the 
gods ... she ran further ... the old woman followed her with a 
rasping cough torn out of her lungs ... "She is the eternal exile 

140/INDIAN literature : 157 

of youth ... she too has been seduced by Siva ... she is a mad 

In the marathon of youth ... the old woman died. Govyri 
ran towards the opulence of the hills where dams divided rivers... 
To the bushes of crimson hibiscus, and buffaloes like those on 
the Indus valley seals ... to the rain-drenched sweetness of jasmine 
... towards the chaos of eternal creation. In madness or vigilance 
... to claim for herself the truth of the new times. Airplanes seared 
the skies ... and Gowri understood the violence of tearing wings 
from her arms ... Beyond there was peace. 


1 . name of village, lit. place where Gowri fell from grace. 

2. late medieval ruler in Mysore famous for resisting the British 

3. a form of goddess Kali/Durga in full destructive flow 

4. tropical tree with fragrant flowers 

5. "Enough, stop this madness. Get to work, or else ..." 

6. Grand temple festival of the deity Virupaksha 

7. "Die ... die, you scoundrel." 

8. Siva, god of destruction, and Parvati, form of Gowri/Shakti • 

9. bow 

10. the cosmic destruction dance of Siva 

1 1 . celestial muse 

12. sun god 

13. "What, are you dancing for Siva? I am Siva." D 



T he yellow plastic bag had the shop's name and the legend 
'Thank you, come again' printed on it in large letters. It lay 
prone on the counter and looked up at her. Its black curved 
handle, all set and ready, seemed to invite her to pick it up. 

Hema did not pick it up. She was frantically considering the 
difference between the amount of Rs. 187.65 on the bill and the 
Rs. 1 75/- in her handbag. She seemed to remember having kept 
Rs. 200/- in the hangbag the previous day. Failing to check before 
leaving the house had landed her in this quandary. The shortage 
suddenly made her remember that her mother had taken money 
from her last night for buying some pulses. Sweat erupted in her 
palms. With the bill made up, the shop wouldn't take back the 
saris ... 

She fumbled about again. "Looks like there isn't enough 
cash ..." she muttered, as if sharing with the salesman her com- 
plaint about someone else. 

The salesman was losing his patience. 

"You mean you came to buy saris without money, madam?" 
The veins stood out on his forehead, his jaws tightened. 
Anger would explode any minute. 

"Can I help?" 

Hema swung round. 

It was Tulasi. 

She stood shocked for a moment. 

"No ... No, thanks." 

"Please don't refuse or feel embarrassed. What is the harm 

142/INDIAN literature : 157 

in borrowing money from me now and returning ittomorrow?" 

"It's all right. Please don't put yourself out. Thanks for the 
offer but there is really no need." 

Hema wanted to flee. Where did Tulasi suddenly spring 
from? What a situation ... Flustered, she rummaged through her 
purse again aimlessly. 

"Take it easy, Hema. What is there to get so nervous about? 
You know me, after ‘all, don't you? I am no stranger. The extra 
money simply isn't in your purse, no matter how hard you search. 
I feel bad seeing you in such a predicament in a public place. 
Tell me how much you are short of." 

Having no choice, Hema told her. Tulasi unzipped the 
leather bag slung over her shoulder. 

"Here you are." 

Hema made no move to take it. She mopped her brow. 
"Don't hesitate, Hema. Can't people help one another in these 
small ways?" 

Hema put her hand out finally. Her head rose too. The eyes 
of the two women briefly met and then fell away. 

Now that she had accepted Tulasi's help, Hema felt it 
wouldn't be polite to break away before Tulasi had finished her 
own purchases. She waited. They left the shop together. 

"I'll take leave now ..." began Hema when Tulasi asked 
softly, "How are you, Hema?" 

"Hm? ... Fine ... And you?" 

"Fine, too." 

"Your husband? Your son?" 

"All well." 

'And your brother?' This was a question Hema did not ask. 
Could Tulasi have expected it? If so, she would be a fool. But 
in the four years that Hema had moved with her, she had had 
no reason to consider her a fool. 

"Where are you going now?" Tulasi asked. 

"Home. I'll take an auto. That way I'll have to pay only 
after reaching home. So long, then. I'll return your money by 
M.O. tomorrow." 

"That's all right. So you are only going home. That means 
you have no other engagement now. Shall we have coffee at 

R. chudamani/143 

some hotel?" 

Hema did not expect this. She gave Tulasi a searching look. 
What could this woman be thinking of? 

Tulasi smiled. "Leave the other factors alone, Hema. Hadn't 
you and I always been friends?" 

Hema began to soften, but hardened herself the next instant. 
Perhaps Tulasi, with such honeyed talk, was trying to trap her 
back into the old set-up. 

"I read your article in an English periodical last month, 
Hema. You had gone deeply into the Ramjanmabhoomi issue 
from a perceptive intellectual's point of view. I was very much 
impressed by it. I wanted to brag to everyone that I knew the 
author Hema Nagarajan in person." 

Hema felt Tulasi had dispelled all her misgivings at one 
stroke. By praising her article, she had acknowledged Hema's 
status as a journalist. And in saying 'Hema Nagarajan' she had 
indicated that she accepted the validity of that name. 

"Thanks, Tulasi. Didn't you say something about coffee? 
But you must remember that my purse is empty now." 

How vivacious Hema looked when she smiled! Tulasi smiled 
in return and said "Be my guest." 

The evening crowd of T'Nagar had spilled over into the small 
restaurant. The two women chose a table in a corner and sat 
down. Despite Hema's protests, Tulasi ordered icecream as well 
as coffee for both of them. 

A few minutes passed in silence between them. Hema's 
embarrassment had not entirely left her. 

She and Tulasi. What a strange pair! What was the relation- 
ship between the two now? They were not sisters or related in 
any manner by blood. Tulasi had said they were friends, but 
they had not been school — or college-mates. The relationship 
came into existence only when Hema married Damodaran. Their 
acquaintance and friendship started only from that time. 

What were they now? Ex-sisters-in-law? 

Hema laughed. 

"Why are you laughing?" 

"I just wondered how we are related to each other now, 
and I couldn't help laughing." 

144/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 157 

"Friendship is also a relationship, Hema. Two people get 
acquainted in some context. Then, if they become friends in their 
own right, the friendship can continue even after the original 
context has changed." 

"But Tulasi, can you help, feeling a certain distance from 
me? Can you really maintain an impartial attitude between ... 
between your brother' and me?" 

"Why not? Damu is my brother and so I have a bond of 
blood with him. But I have a bond with you too, Hema! In fact, 
a much more basic bond." 

"And what is that?" 

"We are both women." 

A thrill of pleasure soothed Hema's feelings and the icecream 
came at that point to soothe her palate. They began to eat their 
icecreams. The simple act, done together, made Hema feel good 
due to a subtle sense of closeness. 

Tulasi spoke between two spoonfuls: "Are you working on 
any project now? Any on-the-spot reporting?" 

"No. But there is a VIP interview to be done. When the 
Prime Minister returns from his foreign tour 1 have to go to Delhi 
and interview him about it and write an article." 

"I'm very glad, Hema. I shall certainly read it. I suppose it 
will be published in the paper you usually write for?" 

"Yes, I am doing the interview on its behalf ... Its editor has 
invited me to join his staff. Very probably I'll be holding an 
important post on the staff by the time this interview appears in 

Tulasi reached for her hand and pressed it warmly, her face 
glowing. "Congratulations, Hemal This is wonderful news. I am 
very, very happy. It is a compliment to your intelligence and 
ability that a leading newspaper should voluntarily offer you a 
place on its staff." 

A Master's degree in politics. A diploma in journalism. A 
frequent contributor of articles to newspapers and magazines. 
These were the attributes that had impressed Damodaran when 
he went to 'view' Hema before the marriage. Hema had a dig- 
nified beauty with an air of intelligence about it. Damodaran saw 
the beauty, not the intelligence, and told his parents that he liked 

R. chudamani/145 

the girl and the alliance could be settled. Tulasi sat pondering 
on these incidents of nine years ago. 

Hema regarded the face before her. Tulasi's face that bore 
her brother's resemblance, but glowing now with pleasure for 
her, Hema. And those words, 'It is a compliment to your intelli- 
gence, and ability.' Had he ever spoken, or even felt, like this? 
... Hema felt a surge of bitter memories within her. 

When they started life together Damodaran had been quite 
proud of her writing: specially so when she changed her maiden 
name of Hema Nagarajan to Hema Damodaran. He felt pleased 
and proud when his friends at the office said "Damu, your wife's 
article this week is simply fantastic" and those visiting him at 
home complimented her with something like "You have excelled 
yourself this time, Mrs. Damodaran. Your pen is very powerful." 

Then, gradually, the pleasure and the pride waned. He 
began to say "Why do these loafers have to praise you?" When 
some editor or fellow-writer called her, he barked "How long 
are you going to keep jabbering? Put the phone down." When 
she sat typing an article he snapped "Is there to be no end to 
this tap-tap in the house? Gosh, can't a man have some peace 
here? Stop that din at once." To escape this comment she would 
sit down quietly at night with pen and paper, and he would 
shout at her from bed, "Burning the midnight oil, eh? Must fancy 
yourself a great intellectual. Switch off the light and come to bed 
this instant. Don't you remember that you have some duties 
towards your husband too?" 

Once she retorted, "I haven't neglected any duty because 
of my writing, have I?" 

"Oh, talking back! Naturally. Such a great freelance jour- 

"Well, you knew that when you married me." 

When she gave him this answer he sulked and did not talk 
to her for the next few days. 

He was also an officer, the general manager in a prosperous 
private firm. A good name, considerable salary, high status — he 
had them all. 

But hers was a field, he must have thought, where appre- 
ciation for merit was long-lasting and so she was overshadowing 

146/INDIAN literature ; 157 

him. Such thoughts obviously fanned his jealousy. 

Finally one day, four years after their marriage, the inward 
seething exploded. 

The editor of a weekly had asked her if she could go to a 
village near Salem where a communal riot had occurred, to meet 
some of the affected people and record her impressions in an 
article for his magazine. 

"Going out of station to write a damned article?" Damodaran 
had raged at her. "What nonsense! Look, you mustn't write 
anything again. Or even if you do, not for publication." 

"But this is not fair! I have been writing even before our 
marriage, and ..." 

"A woman has got to make some changes after she is mar- 

"In which way have I let my writing affect you?" 

"No more argument. Will you give up your writing or not?" 

"I won't." 

"Then you will have to give up your marriage." 

"As you wish." 

Tulasi's gentle voice was saying "Your icecream is long since 
over, Hema." 

Hema looked up quickly. "Sorry. I was thinking of so many 
... You congratulated me, didn't you, Tulasi? Thanks so much. 
This is a great experience for me today." 

The restaurant was filled with people moving back and forth 
in an incessant wave-like flow. There were voices all around, an 
incomprehensible density of noise, from which an occasional 
word or sentence floated apart to take on meaning. Dusk was 
falling, but in the shadowless white of the fluorescent lights it 
was the bright silver of daytime. 

The waiter brought their coffee. Taking a cup, Tulasi asked 
"Where do you live now, Hema?" 

"With my parents. They too need my support." 

"Don't you intend getting married?" 

Hema stopped sipping her coffee and gave the other woman 
a keen look. "Are you kidding?" 

"Why should I?" 

R. chudamani/147 

"I complete 34 next month." 

"I know. You and I are the same age." 

"Well, then?" Hema resumed drinking her coffee. 

"Can't a woman marry at 34, Hema?" 

"I live a peaceful life now." 

"I don't doubt it." 

"Do you think marriage is all-important to a woman, Tulasi?" 

"No, I certainly don't think so. But in your case, I feel it will 
demonstrate a basic justice." 

"How do you mean?" 

Tulasi hesitated, then said "My brother is going to marry 

"Is that so? My best wishes to him. I hope he finds happiness 
at least in this marriage. The coffee is good, isn't it?" 

"If a divorced man can find re-marriage so easy, why not 
a divorced woman as well? The coffee is indeed good. Shall we 
have another cup?" 

After coffee Tulasi paid the bill and tipped the waiter. They 
came out together and stood facing the road, laden with their 
leather bags and their new saris in the plastic bags. Then slowly 
they turned round and met each other's eyes. 

"I am very happy to have met you like this today, Tulasi." 

*'\ am happy, too." 

And they smiled. 

Translated from Tamil by the Author 




I T is nothing shoft of a marvel to me. As the door opens my 
gaze glides over everything in the room in one single sweep, 
swift and brief. From the moment my finger falls on the door bell 
to the moment the door opens slowly, haltingly, my mind remains 
atone point, full of ardent concentration a strange kind of longing. 

The door opens onto the outer room, a plain looking room, 
hedged in by bare walls, a charpoy resting on the floor, an ash 
coloured blanket spread over the bedding, rickety wooden racks 
loaded with books lined alongside a wall and that brown coat 
hanging in a corner in which people see Dr Rajat going about 

My gaze comes to rest on the brown coat — the same gaze 
that had once roved over the angarkhas of Rajput princes in the 
City Palace of Jaipur. Dresses can indeed bustle with miracles. 
They can transform a man's personality. 

In Dr Rajat's sitting-cum-study-bedroom, that coat hanging 
from a peg looks like an individuality incarnate. Dr Rajat is sitting 
on his charpoy in a slightly discoloured and worn-out night suit, 
about a dozen books haphazardly resting by his side, some open, 
some closed and dozing on their spines, and still others starkly 
open and gazing indolently at the ceiling. I find that this morning 
Dr Rajat's eyes are unusually red. He must have kept reading 
the whole night and stopped only on hearing the warning signal 
of the hissing tap in the bathroom. "Dr Saheb, are you a man 
ora phantom? It's going on to be four. Aren't you going to sleep?" 

Setting his book aside. Dr Rajat must have stolen into the 
bathroom and after filling the bucket with water he must have 


gone into the kitchen and made a flaskful of tea and returned to 
his room with the tea. 

He goes into the inner apartments only when the others are 
asleep or haopen to be away. Otherwise his own room and his 
bed are as remote from the other rooms of the house as the south 
pole from the north. His door rarely opens from inside or from 
outside as if he is haunted by a fear that if the door is inadvertently 
left open the whole earth will squeeze itself on the threshold. 

People have become so accustomed to seeing Dr Rajat sit- 
ting in his room and leaning over his study table that his presence 
in somebody else's room would have seemed an incongruity or 
even an impertinence. Few people venture to visit him and most 
of them leave it to their imagination as to what the inside of his 
house would be like. 

Perhaps I was one of the privileged few indulgently permitted 
to intrude on his privacy. By now I have come to know even 
the topography of his house and to a limited extent I even know 
its history. I consider this privilege so special that there seems to 
exist an inscrutable conspiracy between the two of us. That is 
why he feels so reassured about me. 

As it were, he has not bestowed this privilege upon me; 1 
have in fact wrenched it out of him. In spite of his alertness my 
inquisitiveness, had by and by taken me to the peg on which he 
used to hang his brown coat. I felt that this coat was to Dr Rajat 
what his armour was to Kama. Without his coat he looked so 
denuded, his body a long drawn out sigh. My mind fully alert, 

I would tell myself repeatedly, "Summi, have a good look. It's 
the same Dr Rajat, about whom you had heard so much in the 
world of literature, the man at whose feet you wanted to sit and 
acquire knowledge. He is no longer that little Raju after whom 
you used to jump from one roof to another to see him flying 
paper kites!" 

Dr Rajat's interests are now confined to the University. It is 
his Kurukshetra, the battlefield of life, the sanctified place of 
religion, the sphere of duty, his dharma. Not conscious of his 
depth of learning, he rarely talks about himself. He has a vast 
following of dedicated students. But as if unaware of his own 
being he wallows in his loneliness. And yet a romantic halo 

150/INDIAN literature ; 157 

gathers around him. 

Like his mysterious personality, the outer room of his house 
also holds a great fascination for me. The desire to unwind the 
room fold by fold and get at its heart partially accounted for my 

They were hard days for rire. A faceless sadness, an unbear- 
able sense of unease, kept oppressing me. With every passing 
moment I would feel more and more that I should do something 
to keep my sensibility from congealing. How long could time 
preserve me like a refrigerator? 1 wanted to keep off the moment 
at which the process of disintegration would set in. I must live 
a natural life where I could take everything in its stride. I did not 
want to end up as a plant in house. 

It was on one such day that, fiercely suppressing my hesita- 
tion, 1 pressed the door bell of Dr Rajat's room with my right 
hand, mv left hand firmly clutching an old note book under.the 
pallu of my sari. 

Perhaps the room had a native temper of its own that it 
should have tempted me to ply Dr Rajat with question after 
question. But I suppressed my desire to do so. And then 1 felt 
as if 1 had been standing with Dr Rajat in a dark cave where our 
spirits had become one and in the soft light emanating from our 
beings we were silently deciphering some inscriptions etched in 
an unknown language on the walls of the cave. 

Sitting at the table Dr Rajat was reading my notebook while 
my eyes from over his head were watching the sinking evening 
sun through the glass window panes. He would turn the pages 
of my notebook interspersed with brief comments on my stories. 
But my attention, unmindful of the beginning or the end of a 
story was hovering round the glowing evening sun. It appeared 
as if a fire was melting in a glass plate and brimming over it. 

Suddenly Dr Rajat closed the notebook and raised his head 
to look at me. His back was towards.the window. For an instant 
his body trembled as if he were coming out of a deep reverie. 
Then he looked at my frozen expression as if 1 were in a trance 
and said in a soft voice, "Summi, don't blink your eyes. I want 
to see the sun sinking in your eyes." 

Even without stirring 1 realized that my face had turned crim- 


son like the distant horizon. I sat still. Then I saw Dr Rajat pouring 
tea from his flask into two cups. 1 could even hear the blood 
tingling in my veins. I have no experience of religious meditation 
but this experience of mine, remote from corporeal awareness 
gave me a strange sense of fulfilment. 

It was a moment merging into nothingness. And then I heard 
Dr Rajat saying, "Summi, you are like a cascading spring!" It 
was the supreme mornent of awareness. 1 felt there wasmothing 
more left to be said between me and Dr Rajat. Deep down we 
were trying to know each other. 

By now you must have realized what lies between me and 
Dr Rajat. Like a whiff of wind I can enter his room without knock- 
ing and like sunshine sprawl in every corner of his room. And 
like solitude I have a voiceless tete-a-tete with him. I find him 
most alluring when hanging his brown coat on the peg he says, 
"Well, how nice!" 

Today when he opened the door for me I saw a shadowy 
figure disappearing through the other door. She is Dr Rajat's 
wife, Sudha. Broad face, high cheek bones, short and squat, 
spread at the hips, small, empty eyes and swarthy complexion. 
All told, she looks so plain and simple. Only sometimes a reluctant 
smile would momentarily light up her swarthy face. I have never 
felt Sudha's presence in the house. She has always given the 
impression of a wavering off-stage shadow. I have heard her only 
as an indistinct sound from the back quarters. Often I wished to 
see her stand by Dr Rajat's side just to see how she would look 
in his proximity. But stepping out of her structure of bones and 
flesh she would just become a shadowy apparition. 

Sudha holds full sway over the other rooms of the house. 1 
wish to go in to see her intrinsic reality. But I don't have access 
to the inner apartments. They are the other end of the earth. Stan- 
ding in the middle I sometimes look at Sudha and then at Rajat. 
How true and real they are in their mundane setting. But as soon 
as they change their rooms they become shadows like the nega- 
tives of a photograph, false and haunting. 

Sudha comes to his room four or five times in the day — some- 
times to give him his thali of food, sometimes with a cup of tea. 
As Rajat raises his eyes from his book she is no longer a woman 

154/INDIAN literature : 157 

who, with the end of her sari tied to Rajat's dress had walked 
seven steps with him round the ritual wedding fire, the woman 
in whom had turned into stone. She is now little more than a 
machine which comes in handy to serve his needs. 

The jungle visible from Rajat's window takes many shapes 
drenched in varying colours. But the atmosphere inside his house 
remains sombre and staid. Many a time my lips tremble in vexa- 
tion. I want to ask him why he married at all if he wanted to live 
such a pedestrian and joyless life? And that doll-like Meeta, their 
hapless daughter. The poor child looks so out of joint in the 
family. Did Rajat never long for Sudha? Didn't the gentle touch 
of her hand ever sprout love in his heart or unfulfilled love breed 
discontent? I shudder to think how hatred and anger must have 
made this blameless woman's life so unbearable. How is it that 
in the end physical union through violence and through tender 
love produce the same result? After all, where lies the truth? Is 
it embodied in the end-result itself or in the vast hard terrain of 
feelings and sentiments one has to traverse to achieve the end-re- 

Sometimes I feel that Rajat is the guilty one. Had he turned 
his face against marriage he would have absolved himself of this 
terrible sense of guilt. A highly sensitive man like him cannot 
escape its consequences. The traits of his character at cross-pur- 
poses have tainted the very well-springs of his life. 

In one such dark moment of agony which threatened to tear 
his personality to shreds Rajat had said to me in a confessional 
mood, "Summi, you adore me because of my achievements. 
How foolish of you! May be I am also something of a fool for there 
is a streak of selfishness in me which makes me work with a sense 
of dedication to cover up some shortcoming somewhere. If I 
don't work I may go mad." 

Not that I do not understand Rajat's obsession for work. I 
know that his anguish is a protective armour which keeps him 
from falling apart. Even so I feel that when his soul groping in 
blind alleys is on the verge of crumbling down 1 should hold him 
by his hand and lead,-him out. Ijvanted to see him beaming like 
a child, its face said, "Rajat, there are 

so many studen al and want to emulate 


your example." I was still speaking when the door of his room 
flung open with a bang. Sudha had returned. It seemed as if a 
fierce storm had suddenly gone dumb after mangling Sudha's 
face. She glared at Rajat and then at me with burning eyes so 
that for a moment I felt that quiet room had become a blazing 
furnace. She seemed to have stood Rajat as a culprit at the 
cross-roads before the public gaze and was lashing out at him 
with her blazing eyes, "Are you the same Rajat who is worshipped 
outside this house? But little do they know of you. They have 
not seen the ugly demon inside you, which has made me the 
target of your diabolical designs. But why? Tell me why?" 

Sudha had returned to her room. The clicking of the latch 
at the other side of the door brought us back to our senses. 

"Don't mind, Summi. You rnustgo. You're already so late." 

And I had left his house. 

In Rajat's presence many questions resolve themselves of 
their own accord. Many accusations against him bow their heads 
before him without demur. But on returning from his house? 
Questions like a saw with multiple sharp teeth begin to lacerate 
my mind. 

Whenever I have seen Sudha turning back from the thres- 
hold, my sympathy has travelled with her from the outer room 
to the inner room. I want to stop her and ask, "Why should you 
undergo this life-long imprisonment? Why this silent death? In 
what hope?" 

Sudha's highest reach of imagination falls far short of Rajat's 
aspirations. I have known her only through Rajat though I have 
often tried to enter her mind. An average woman, what does she 
want? A well meaning person who comes in the evening tired 
and weary, showers his affection on her, plays with the children, 
provides her with the basic comforts of life, lives in harmony 
with her. Is it a crime for Sudha to ask for these? 

She feels stifled in a house filled to overflowing with books. 
Are they books or her co-wives? He has left no vacant space for 
her. If she would ever be able to have her way with Rajat, the 
first thing she would do is burn his books. If she relents she would 
sell the whole lot as wastepaper to the raddiwala. And then it 
will be the turn of that brown coat which seems to be the reposit- 

158/INDIAN literature : 157 

if a rock had split apart making a crackling sound. I smelt trouble. 

I gave Rajat an angry look and said, "Dr Rajat, surely, you 
can't take a person for granted. Can't one meet a person's basic 
needs with a cool head? a .compromise which can give both 
sides time to breathe in peace?" 

1 was getting worked up for nothing. 

"Dr Rajat," I continued, "there must be something within 
you which gives you people the strength to put up with this suf- 
fering. Is it sheer hatred or sadism of the primeval vintage?" 

I saw that Dr Rajat's eyes had darkened with anger. He held 
the cross hanging from his neck so tightly that I feared its point 
may pierce his skin until it bled. Then slowly unclenching his fist 
he said, "Summi, our relationship is exactly as you have seen 
it — neither more nor less. To deviate from our behaviour would 
amount to playacting, a lie. Do you want me to live a false life 
and go to pieces?" 

I stood there clenching and opening my fists. 

"Don't feel so upset, girl," Rajat said. "When you are here 
next time I'll read out to you my best and saddest story." 

The next time,, my need to speak to him was greater than 
his to me. I wanted to unburden myself of so many things. But 
Rajat, as if lost in himself seemed to be addressing some other 
woman sitting by his side. "Summi, you can be the heroine of 
an outstanding novel. In the superb moments of your life you 
rise in the category of women round whom immortal novels have 
been written. Isabel Archer, of Henry James' novel is my favourite 
heroine. Will 1 ever be able to write such a powerful novel? Can 
you live within the skin of my heroine? Summi ... no , Iza .... 
Iza ... Iza!" 

Had it been some other day I would have gloated over Rajat's 
compliment. But today something recoiled within me. "Are you 
giving me some special award by asking me to step into the 
shoes of Isabel Archer?" I wanted to ask him. "Is it necessary 
for Summi to transform herself into a story in order to become 
a living reality? Dr Rajat, what do you want to transform yourself 
into? A great creator or an inhuman monster?" 

It was for the first time that I had discarded decency and 
brazenly thrown it before Dr Rajat. I heard myself saying, "Rajat, 


am I an empty photo frame in which you can fix your sweetheart 
culled from your prized novel those laughing and weeping 
women from your favourite novels so dear to your heart. Is Sudha 
a failure because she is not the prototype of any of your favourite 
heroines? Because she is not the many-faceted prism which can 
weave the seven-coloured rainbow of your imagination? Sudha 
is of the earth, earthy, prosaic and mundane. Perhaps you want 
to see her in the role of the glamorous heroine of one of your 
tragedies whom you cast on the stage to win rounds after rounds 
of applause for you. Tell me, what do you want? You, you!" 

1 tore into bits the clipping of a newspaper which I had been 
holding in my hand all the time. It contained comments on my 
latest story. I felt now there was no need to read the thing out 
to him. In a huff I proceeded towards the door. I was stepping 
through the door when the end of my sari got entangled in a 
button of Dr Rajat's brown coat hanging from the wall. As I 
pulled the end of my sari it tore making a sharp sound. The 
button also came off and fell on the floor. 

Despite myself I cast a quick glance at Rajat. He was sitting 
in his chair with closed eyes, his hands clenched against his 
chest. It seemed as if instead of the button a part of his flesh had 
been wrenched off. Suddenly something erupted within me. 
Perhaps the sorcery of the brown coat. Did Dr Rajat's life really 
inhabit his brown coat? 

Translated from Hindi by Jai Ratan □ 



A giri from the temple village am I. In the memory song of time 
past, you might perhaps have heard my melody. Somewhere 
along that passage you might have seen the lightning flash of my 
shadow. Huddled up in the cold along the corridors of your 
mind, the silver bells of my anklet rhight have tinkled. Is the cry 
of any of the children borne by me lying ensnared in the nerves 
of your soul? 

Into your mind where everything has vanished like the way 
the seven-hued bow melts away at the kiss of the sun, across 
these sandgrains washed and dried, let me come again jingling 
my silver anklet. 

See this, my village. Mother Is here, mother of my, our, vil- 
lage. Mother of terrible figure with serpents for hairs, with blazing 
fiery eyes, with a gaping mouth and a blood-red tongue. Under 
the shadow of Mother, my village shudders. Every girl born in 
this village carries a variant of Mother's name. A time there was 
when every movement in the village started with the chanting of 
Mother's name. And Mother's responses were always beyond 
prediction. In her hands were blessings along with seeds of dis- 
eases. On her tongue were curses besides words of benediction. 
In those eyes the flames of wrath along with the glow of love. 

Look here, swollen on the tender skin of my children you 
see the pustules of her blessings. As my children lie with a pinkish 
rash on their skin, their lips swollen and blistered, eyes red and 
bulging, the Grannie of the village touches their feet and puts 
the fingers on her own eyes and say: 

"Protect us, Devi, O Mother!" 


No one knows yet how old was the village Gratinie. Her 
body is hard like black ebony and she sits there ip a small cottage 
on the village border, with her legs stretched out on the shining 
black cement floor of the verandah, chewing betel-nut and spit- 
ting out into the distance. When people got roasted in the hot 
air of the electric fan in the concrete mansion opposite rising in 
pomp. Grannie would just take off her upper garment, and lie 
on her back on the grass-mat on the verandah and sleep in 
peace. In her dreams would be the glow of the bracelets of Devi 
who gets ready to kill Daruka. 

It was my husband who had drawn my attention to the firm- 
ness of Grannie's breasts. Ajayan and I were about to go for an 
evening walk and Grannie came up, her upper body covered 
with a wet cotton shawl. The waves of the lake played about 
the locks ofherhairand seemed to cause ripples among them . 

"Don't you see? Like black stone, in spite of her age ..." 

I saw it was true. My eyes turned away with a sagging sense 
of inferiority. 

"It is Mother's blessing", she said looking at my son suffering 
from fever for the past four days. The pustules had not made 
their appearance yet. The city doctors had prescribed for him 
the drugs for viral fever. 

"This is no simple fever". Grannie said, "What do these 
fashionable doctors know? The pustules will come out on the 
fifth day. You wait and see." 

A fear took possession of me. 

"Hang neem leaves at every door. Burn incense at nightfall. 
Every one has to bathe twice and chant the names of Devi. No 
cooking of fish or eggs in the kitchen for a few days. Everything 
will beO.K. Mother is testing us. She'll bend us, but not break." 

"What if we make Grannie the Chief Medical Officer?" 
Ajayan asked me in a whisper. 

"Where are you both off to, leaving the sfck child behind?" 

"Just for a walk," I said. "For a breath of fresh air. The 
beginning of a headache." 

"O.K. then. I am also leaving soon. I heard the child was 
not well. Just came to have a look." 

My daughter came up prancing and gasping. Grannie sur- 

162/INDIAN literature : 157 

veyed her as she just came in, panting and with beads of sweat 
after playing about in the premises. 

"Mother has set her hand on you too, my child. Fever will 
start today or tomorrow." 

Ajayan laughed at it, looking at our daughter who had no 
sign of any illness. I didn't laugh, since I had plentiful evidence 
from experience. 

Some time at night the cells in my daughter's body turned 
red hot. My son's body was covered with rashes. 

"Don't ever make fun of Grannie", 1 told Ajayan. "It is bad 
for us." 

On the dykes of childhood lay scattered like oyster shells 
ever so many arguments in support of that. 

"What is the good of your education? A monkey's brain full 
of superstitions." 

"I never thought there were superstitions in the brains of 

"Speaking from experience, aren't you?" 

Unwilling to start an argument, 1 put two more idlis into 
Ajayan's plate and poured sambar. 1 felt very tired. The whole 
night I hadn't slept a wink. I had stayed awake changing the wet 
towels on the burning foreheads of the children by turn. Waking 
up from sleep some time during the night, Ajayan came to the 
children's room and touched their bodies. My daughter muttered; 

"Grannie. A spear in the hand of Grannie. Amma, I am 

"There is nothing, nothing serious at all." 

"That stupid old hag is responsible for all this." Ajayan was 
angry. "Suggesting things to children. This fever is the result of 
psychological fear." 

Still 1 didn't care to start an argument. 

When 1 dozed off, I saw the figure of Devi. First it was the 
priest running up a small hillock carrying the golden crown of 
serpent hairs on his head. Then that golden crown melted into 
a golden river. The golden river wriggled and stood up. Red lines 
were seen here and there. Later Durga, dressed in red with a tri- 
dent in hand, was visible on the top of the hill. Even while sprink- 
ling a handful of seeds, there was a benign smile on her lips. 


My daughter startled. I woke up and embraced her: 

“What is it, Ammu?" 

“Someone poured acid on my body." 

She sweated in that feverish heat and trembled. 

Does this mean anythingtoAjayan? Won't it also be ascribed 
to the monkey's brain? So I didn't tell him. I don't say too many 
things to him. 

Ajayan, who was born and brought up in the air-conditioned 
city that sleeps in cool cradles for ever, will never be able to 
understand the rawness of the village. 

My village is in my blood. It is always with me like a veritable 
fact. Even when I move to the concrete building in the heart of 
the city, the village is at an arm's length. Its memory enfolds me 
like a warm blanket. 

The coconut trees laughed, their leaves dishevelled like the 
hair of a mad girl. The tenderness of moonlight spread over them 
like oily moisture. The dry earth split on parallel lines — the throats 
of hornbills yearning for raindrops. 

The scent of the earth at the first touch of rains always pleased 
me. The sighs of the sands when the first drops from the clouds 
gently unlock their silver folds and wind upwards and entwine 
into a light embrace. 

“Like you, the serpents also love that scent". Grandma, 
would say. “The fresh rain is the time when serpents creep out 
of their pits. Don't go and stand near the serpent-stones." 

Now at the place of the old serpent-stones, there is the shed 
for the night-watchman. The snake-like creepers serpentining in 
the grove have sunk into the womb of memory. And the ruddy 
coconut tree laden with nuts stands over the grave of Grandma 
who had once stepped into this village as the most beautiful of 
brides that ever came here. 

My Grandma was charming like a beam of moonlight. Altho- 
ugh past seventy she never stepped out of her room in the morning 
without reddening her lips by chewing betel-nut and wearing 
kukum on her forehead with a slender sandal mark above it. 

“What was my Grandma like?" Ajayan said. “O, I never 
watched her carefully. She was healthy. I don't know anything 
more. She had eyes, nose and lips like others." 

164/iNDIAN literature ; 157 

Ajayan was not interested in the memory lanes down which 
1 went from time to time nor in the subtle variations there. 

Grannie and Grandma were close friends. Grandma's daily 
bath took nearly two hours and 1 would be there seated on the 
stone where shampoo leaves were crushed and turned into a 
paste, reciting the lines of a poem that still haunts me. Grannie 
would help Grandma to wipe off the stain of turmeric from her 
back by applying crushed bark along with lentil powder. Once 
in a while she would turn to me and say: 

"My little daughter has only this song to sing all the time? 
Dream ... and friend ... you aren't old enough for that either." 

"Leave her alone, Lakshmi", Grandma would say. "She is 
a strange type. A dreamer." 

Today my children raise this chorus calling me a dreamer — 
as 1 sink into the far away world in the midst of talking, driving, 
cooking, reading... 

"Laughing and talking to oneself like this is a sign of schizoph- 
renia", said Ajayan. "My God, after all that waiting I have married 
a mental patient." 

He could have used a stronger term than mental patient, 1 
thought. But he can't use it. Because, I am a child of this village. 
The village fills the granary box in the cellar wjth golden grain. 
It comes out frothing in the form of oil and money through the 
coconut bunches. So we build mansions in the heart of the city. 
Buy vehicles. Send our children to the most expensive schools. 
And succeed in capturing the envious admiration of other people. 

No. Ajayan cannot even utter the term mental patient except 
in joke. 

When 1 accepted Ajayan as my husband. Grandma's pyre 
was one year old. Holding Ajayan's hand 1 stood near the 
graveyard coconut tree, which was beginning to spread its tender 
leaves. Grandma, here is my husband. Bless us. Bless that the 
children born to us have wealth, health, knowledge, intelligence 
and love. Bless that our path runs a smooth course. Bless that 
the village may remain awake in my mind like a cool spring 
though I may move to the hottest of cities. 

"Why do you call her? She might already have been born 


The voice of Grannie woke me up from my prayer. She stood 
there smiling before us, as though suddenly materialised. 

"Are you sure she has been born again?" Ajayan asked back 
in fun. "Suppose it was a case where the file was closed after 
granting salvation?" 

"My child, only those who have achieved the annihilation 
of desire can attain salvation. Gouri had never exhausted her 
desires — not till her death. That's why I'm so sure that she must 
have been reborn ... somewhere .. in some form or other ..." 

On the tip of a palm leaf a butterfly with glassy wings wildly 

"Perhaps she could be this butterfly, couldn't she?" 

"Not impossible." 

"Grandma-fly, please protect us" Ajayan closed his eyes, 
joined his palms and prayed. 

"Ajayan", I got angry. "You shouldn't talk like that even in 
fun. Don't mock Grandma." 

Grannie laughed aloud; 

"Where is your Grandma? Who is your Grandma? My dear 
child, when all is said and done, there is only the Supreme One. 
Devi, the jaganmata." 

She joined her palms: "O Mother, Goddess of all, bless my 
village, please." 

"Who is this character?" Ajayan asked while walking to the 

"The Grannie of the village", I said. "No one knows how 
old she is. Had burning eyes and long flowing tresses when 
young. Someone said that she had a touch of the Goddess. They 
decreed that she should remain a virgin. But one night Grannie 
eloped with her lover. A venomous viper bit them both, while 
they were trying to cross the paddy field. The farmer who came 
to the field the next morning saw two bluish bodies lying sprawled 
on the ground. He saw the mark of the fangs on their feet. When 
Granny's body was placed on the funeral pyre, the big toe of 
her left foot twitched, and life came back to her." 

"What about the hero?" 

"Was burned to a handful of ashes." 

"If you had waited for five more minutes, his big toe also 
would have twitched." 

166/lNDlAN LITERATURE : 157 

"Not SO, Ajay, he was destined to die. Otherwise why did 
he desire the divine virgin?" 

Guffaws of laughter escaped from Ajayan; "What a fool you 
are, my beauty!" 

During those days of the honeymoon itself, I realized that 
Ajayan, brought up on air-conditioned culture, could not breathe 
in the pure air of the village. 

One evening as Grannie stood near the serpent-stone pray- 
ing after bath, 1 made bold to ask her; 

"Grannie, is it true that you have seen the underworld?" 

Grandma was angry: ^'What a question to be asked at night- 
fall! Can't you go in and chant the names oif the lord?" 

Next morning I went up to the maid who was boiling paddy 
in a huge cauldron. I had a handful of jack fruit pips with me. I 
liked immensely the taste of these pips boiled along with paddy. 
Then the village Grannie called me by name: 

"Didn't you ask me something yesterday, child? Come, I 
will tell you now." 

I ran to her in all excitement. 

Grannie who sat on a palm-frond under the shade of the 
coconut tree beside the lake and the little girl who spread herself 
on the trunk of the coconut tree running parallel to the ground, 
listening with rapt attention to the description of the nether 
world — ^they were far beyond what Ajayan could imagine. 

"There's no coconut tree nor any dream in my vision" 
Ajayan had told me. "My earliest memory is that of Miss Miranda 
with bobbed hair coming to teach me spoken English. 1 also 
remember a dirty comment made by the gardener on her butter- 
white thigh. But I don't think that my childhood was destitute 
because of that, you see? My life was different from yours, that's 

Watching my children play "Monopoly" and "Scrabble" in 
the air-conditioned room in our city-house, 1 have often won- 
dered what kind of a culture is theirs. Father's or Mother's? Or 
a nondescript mixture, of the two? 

I have felt on several occasions that there is an element of 
Devigramam in their blood. 


They are extremely fond of Grannie. Appu is eager to play 
in the yard in front of her house spread with clean white 
river-sand. He likes the walk towards her house across the 
paddy-field humming with bright-coloured moths. And Ammu 
likes to listen to Grannie's talks lying on her verandah that shines 
like her own cheeks, i clearly remember the chaos during our 
last visit. 

At her well stood Appu and Ammu stark naked while Grannie 
poured the pure water of the well over their heads. Used to the 
tepid water coming from the heated metallic tubes of the geyser, 
the children were thrilled to feel the coolness of natural water. 
They started making a hullabaloo. Grannie continued to pour 
water again and again with lightning speed. There was so much 
of freshness in the kids when they returned home as I had never 
seen before. 

But Ajayan lost his temper. 

"Never step out of this house again. Do you know how 
impure well-water is? It is not good for drinking, not even for 
bath. You will catch pneumonia, 1 tell you." 

"This afternoon also Amma drank well-water", said Appu. 
"Amma did not get pneumonia." 

"Amma also bathes in the lake. Whatever Amma does. 
Daddy won't get angry." My daughter complained. 

"Amma is used to it from childhood. She has resistance, 
but you don't have it. Haven't you seen dirty street-kids, those 
children of the street? They eat the left-over in the garbage-can. 
They won't have diarrhoea, because they are used to it, and so 
they have resistance. Can you eat like that?" 

The sharpness of the smile in Ajayan's words pierced my 
mind. My village and I were like the street urchins licking the 
left-over from the garbage-can. 

Ajayan turned to me: "That crone is impudent, because you 
people attribute divinity to her. I'll break her bones if she takes 
such freedom with my children."' 

I went inside, not speaking a word. My mother stood there 
embarrassed. "Why is Ajayan so angry? After all, what has Gran- 
nie done? A spark of the Goddess is in her. Go and tell your’ 
husband not to play with fire." 

1 68/iNDIAN literature : 1 57 

Appu and Ammu never again went to the house of Grannie. 
When she met them accidentally by the lake-shore, Grannie 

"Why didn't you come for your bath? Did Daddy scold 

The children looked at me. As 1 was groping for an answer 
that would not hurt her, she herself said with a smile: 

"Don't try to lie to me. I know it all. No complaint either. 
Let the children be free at least when they come to the village. 
The village should enter into them through their very breath. This 
is the place where Devi's divine locks sway about. Don't forget 
that. Let the children run about freely and play amidst them. 
Well then, do my children want to bathe in the lake?" 

"Yes, yes, yes." 

She closed her eyes for a moment and said: 

"Next Wednesday. Grannie will take you. Let Amma also 
come, OK?" 

When the children riotously welcomed it, I shuddered to 
think of the writing eye-brows of Ajayan. 

"No, Grannie, Ajayan won't like it." 

"Ajayan won't be here that day." 

1 returned, my heart throbbing wildly, Ajayan had come to 
the village to stay for two weeks. Where is he likely to go on 
Wednesday? Or, will anything untoward happen? My mind trem- 
bled wildly. 

A message came over the telephone on Tuesday. "Ajayan's 
uncle has been hospitalized. Start immediately." 

My children bathed in the lake and revelled in it on Wednes- 
day and two days thereafter. They did not get pneumonia. 

There are pustules all over my daughter's body now. Like 
grains of sand scattered. Her feverish heat lingered in the room 
like some foul-smelling vapour. It polluted even the pure air 
coming through, the windows. The pustules having dropped off 
and the fever subsided, my son walked about the house restlessly. 
Ajayan too was restive. As my daughter grew weaker day by day 
not responding to the medicine and treatment, Ajayan too grew 
thin with the routine of food and sleep upset. The two-week-long 
measles confused even the doctors from the city. In her semi-con- 


scious state my daughter's bed sheets used to get drenched in 
urine. She refused to take food. Her breath began to stink. 

"We'll shift her to the hospital tomorrow morning. She may 
have to be given a drip." Ajayan said. 

That evening Grannie came home again. My mother joined 
her palms and sobbed: 

"Why do you test us like this? She is the only female child 
to preserve this tharawad. Devi seems to be forsaking us ..." 

Grannie's eyes caught fire. 

She stood staring at my daughter. Her body began to perspire 
as we watched. Her face got distorted, as if a tussle was going 
on in her mind. 

My daughter lay in bed looking at Grannie with fatigued 
eyes. Suddenly Grannie turned around and walked up to the oil 
lamp on the verandah. She extinguished each of the seven burn- 
ing wicks one after another with her fingers. She came back and 
put the sooty stain on my daughter's forehead with her scorched 

"It's Dhumavati," she told us. "All will be well. Devi will 
only bend, but not break. By tomorrow it will subside. Arrange 
ior madhupuja. Devi ... OMahaMaya ... protectmy village ..." 

The pustules having disappeared, and the body temperature 
subsided, my daughter told me the next morning: "Amma, when 
Grannie put the mark on my forehead, I felt a breeze blowing 
all over my body." 

Ajayan who sat there, patting her hair, suddenly got up and 
went out. 

Translated from Malayalam by Ayyappa Paniker 


Devigramam is the name of the village where the presiding goddess is Durga or 
Kali. Her golden crown on which her hairs are symbolized by serpentine designs 
is worshipped in the temple. The most favourite form of worship is Madhupuja, 
offering of palm-wine. Dhumavati is one of the several manifestations of the 
goddess. The joint family household in Kerala, especially of the Nairs, is called 
tharawad. □ 




W E must begin to dispelling of the notion that induction of 
gender-consciousness in the realm of literature leads to 
devaluing of aesthetic standards/ No critic or reader will however 
dispute the statement that we appropriate meaning from a literary 
text inevitably according to some predispositions and shared 
critical assumptions. What we need to pause and reflect upon is 
the fact that these critical assumption are so deep-rooted and so 
long ingrained that they are no longer-recognized as 'assump- 
tions'. Indeed, the process of unlearning is far more difficult than 
the one of learning. And to be able to confront one's biases as 
'biases', one has to go through a painful surrendering of a steadily- 
built psychological support structure, generally well-cushioned 
and comfortable particularly if the biases ultimately work in one's 
own favour. The resistance to let go this security is bound to be 

We start from the premise that no single reading of a text is 
the right one. As in every other discipline or walk of life, by now 
it can be taken as an established fact that male structures of 
power are inscribed within our literary inheritance too. Charac- 
ters, readers and even writers to some extent are encoded within 
the framework prescribed by patriarchy. We must then examine 
the ethical implications of the erstwhile unquestioned "aesthetic" 
pleasure, pleasures derived at times at the cost of the second sex. 
By raising new and different questions, feminist criticism seeks 
to liberate new and live significances from the same texts. Need- 
less to say, the dynamism of literary texts gets ail the more realized 


with fresh and varied perspective focussed upon them. One may 
ask why just literary texts? Why not also the historical or the 
sociological texts? Creative literature becomes creative only when 
it becomes capable of stripping fiction from "reality”. That is, 
the writer comes close to realizing the 'truth' of an experience 
while presenting it as a chunk of reality with the least of prejudices, 
so that the text is as open to a varied interpretation as reality 
itself. The complexity of life is thus projected through the validity 
of the multiple interpretations of the text. A significant bias that 
cannot easily be exorcised is that of gender. 

Virginia Woolf had once pointed out — 'Literature which is 
always pulling down blinds is not literature.' But women have 
been victims of a kind of interior colonialism and have had to 
per force learn the art of functioning even behind the blinds. 
Denied the full resources of language, they have been led into 
silence or euphemism or even circumlocution. A study of the 
strategies they are compelled to work out for their self-expression 
and how their silences are to be interpreted offers a rich and a 
fascinating area for research and creative exploration. This does 
not remain restricted to a woman writer. A sensitive writer is 
capable of discerning what the exploiter is getting out of his 
exploitation just as he can also perceive the extent to which the 
exploited actually gives her inner consent. This calls for a probe 
into the woman's existentiality itself. To cite an example, the alert 
gender consciousness of the famous Urdu short story ' writer, 
Rajinder Singh Bedi, is projected in his short story "Kalyani." 

The story of Kalyani deals boldly with the sexual experience 
of a prostitute with Mahipat, her male customer. Mahipat comes 
to her as a man who retains incomplete pictures of girls in his 
mind since, as the author remarks sharply in the story, it seems 
to be the male's prerogative to complete the pictures. While 
Kalyani is away for a while, Mahipat restlessly observes the picture 
of Durga hanging on the wall. He confronts the image of Shakti 
projected through her umpteen weapon-laden arms with a bleed- 
ing head in one of the hands and a corpse of a demon below 
her feet. Suddenly feelings of guilt and fear cross his mind and 
he identifies himself with the dead head. A little later, while 
involved in the sexual act, he gets at Kalyani violently, as though 

172/lNDlAN LITERATURE : 157 

searching not for the individual Kalyani but the entire woman- 
hood. He seeks total physical possession, almost vengefully. The 
self-possessed male in him totally disregards the person of Kalyani 
whom he mauls and possesses, absolutely unaware of the junc- 
ture from where 'her person ends and Kalyani commences.' 
Through Mahipat's sense of guilt, shame and embarrassment at 
the end of the sexual act, the subtle message transmitted with a 
feminist alertness is that all is not well between man and woman 
in such an unequal relationship; that, perhaps for a gratifying 
male-female relationship there has to be a radical readjustment 
of sex-roles. 

The complexity of the situation gets further accentuated 
when ironically, the utter powerlessness of the woman in such 
a relationship seems to get compensated by the pride that she 
may feel in being able to after all produce a Male. As Kalyani 
informs Mahipat of having become a mother of a male child, 
her face lights up with a 'strange beam.' She actually exposes 
the maleness of the child to him. Mahipat gets frightened by the 
power that such a declaration projects and the story ends with 
the following statement; 'He makes an exit into the lights outside 
to hide his face!' Also, this suggests the shame and guilt he feels 
on behalf of "malehood". Somewhere in his consciousness per- 
haps there is a realization that while he may excel in brute power 
it is the woman who is posited as being morally superior. Such 
an approach does not imply that Bedi has made a greater range 
of experience available to woman. What is significant is that in 
his portrayal of the guilt, fear and shame of the man, lies a 
suggestion of the discomfiture of the male if the relationship does 
not operate on equal terms. The woman's image "emerges as the 
exploited and the sufferer who has inwardly surrendered to the 
male and gets moments of triumph only in having the ability to 
produce a male child. That is one culturally-determined way of 
exalting the female. Bedi has already shown in the story how sex 
remains an area for the assertion of male power. But the story 
does not simplistically limit itself to just the projection of such a 
stance. It offers a creative exploration into the complexity of the 
male and female psyche within a specific cultural context, it 
presents the cultural delusion in Kalyani of having salvaged 


woman's dignity in some compensatory way by producing a 
male child. Mahipat is squirming at the end of the story: he is 
frightened of the female power and is drawn into the folds of the 
delusion. The tragic absurdity of such male-female relationship 
is the focal point of the story of"Kalyani". Though the literary 
text is contextualized in a cultural specificity, many of the cues 
lead to an existential awareness of the characters that transcends 
cultural boundaries. 

Reductive notions of stereotypical male-female polarities do 
not serve any useful purpose for the understanding of the inherent 
complexity of inter-personal relationships. The ironic vision of 
the writer builds a varied number of cues in the text for a more 
realistic reflection of the same. It is in this context, it is suggested, 
that the concept of androgyny be examined and the complexity 
of male and female characters be confronted more squarely. 
Rather than constantly looking at "heroes" as 'codified' heroes in 
accordance strictly to the male perception, we ought to pay more 
attention to the "heroines" as live female consciousness and not 
as passive and "feminine" puppets; their identities generally get 
projected in so different a style and so concealed a way that they 
are either dismissed or totally missed out. The relatively new 
gender consciousness in criticism alerts and trains one to pick 
up appropriate signals from a text for a fuller understanding of 
the sexual identity of the characters. 

A significant device used by many writers to focus on the 
shifting sex roles is to- use mythology and project the contempor- 
ary and modified perspectives from within the mythical frame- 
work. Mythological images ofSita, Draupadi etc. are being con- 
stantly recast with new perspectives in our literatures. Mythology, 
we must remember, is quite live and kicking in our society. The 
popularity of the serialised epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, 
on the Indian television is well-known. It is pertinent to notice 
how even popular directors such as Ramanand Sagar and B.R. 
Chopra felt the need to make Sita and Draupadi more acceptable 
in the present social context. Today's masses may not have res- 
ponded to the original versions. In the new versions, for instance, 
Sita herself offers to depart ‘for the forest at the end of Ramayana 
and Draupadi's speeches establish her as a strong female person- 

174/iNDIAN literature : 157 

ality fully aware of her "situation", ready to question the tradition- 
ally accepted norms designed to perpetuate a culture insensitive 
to female exploitation. In the significance accorded to these 
speeches the director has really taken care of the ethical dimen- 
sion of the main action going on, thus making it more acceptable 
aesthetically too. Contemporary perspectives get built into the 
reading of a literary text expanding its scope of relevance and 
meaning. What is important is to perceive and decode the right 
cues from the text even though the cue may be that of an "ab- 
sence" or a "lack" or even "silence." 

Tanve'er Fatima of Qurratulain Hyder's story "Patjhar ki 
Awaz" captures the autumnal sensibility of the woman through 
whose detached, middle-aged and disinterested perspective the 
story of her past is narrated. It is only her anonymity that can 
give her some freedom because whenever she is cognisized by 
the 'other', she becomes a distorted self. A paralysis of her will 
at the end of the story suggests in a way the quiet maintenance 
of the inevitable social order which at this stage of her life makes 
her withdraw and wait to be acted upon instead of acting on life 
herself. It is a resignation, an involuntary choosing of a life of 
inaction. The assertive feminist of her youthful self recedes into 
the background and she no longer has the desire to put up a 
fight. She has thus only got evolved into becoming a 'monument 
of silence'. And. the title of the story highlights the pathos in such 
women. Interestingly, these conclusions which come so naturally 
to a mind with a feminist orientation are not so easily perceived 
by the rest of the readers. 

The availability of an abundant feminist theory, particularly 
from the West, inevitably leads to a serious danger of its indis- 
criminate application. A word of caution in this regard is impor- 
tant: cultural contexts must be clearly perceived as an a priori 
to the use of any critical theory. For instance, Elaine Showalter 
works out the rise of gender consciousness historically and shows 
how its evolution could be discerned in three phases: (i) the femi- 
nine phase of internalization and imitation of prevailing modes 
(ii) the feminist phase in which the woman's need for autonomy 
and protest are voiced and (iii) the Female phase projecting the 
process of self-discovery by the woman. This may be true in the 


American situation. As for the Indian context, there is no such 
historical linearity in the evolving of female consciousness; what 
is witnessed here is the simultaneous existence of all three. A 
long cultural history, diverse live mythology combined with a 
fairly long exposure to Western education lend a strange com- 
plexity to the modes of existence here. While the "feminine" is 
preserved and guarded obsessively through a blind following of 
customs and rituals, the "feminist" is recorded in such works as 
Krishna Sobti's novel Mitro Marjani where there is an uninhibited 
portrayal of sexual desire as experienced by a woman. Ismat 
Chughtai's stories record the desire for self-assertion and protest 
by women in a conservative society. And it is in such stories as 
"Yahi Such Hai" by Manu Bhandhari or "The Salt Doll" by 
Shourie Daniels that the fully evolved "female" consciousness 
finds a place in Indian literature. The range of experience available 
to the female protagonist is large and a self-conscious thrust for 
making individual choices for action is quite evident in them. 

In fact, Mira Cheriyan of "The Salt Doll" is an actor-partici- 
pant as well as an observer in the novel. She steps out of the 
action as a witness, as it were, to perceive the movement of the 
story filtered through a female consciousness. The moment she 
is an active participant she is like a salt doll which dissolves in 
the sea and loses identity. But the quiet and subtle style with 
which the male and female interactional patterns reverse through 
Mira-Nanjundan relationship shows Mira's strong inner 
resources: Nanjundan's personality diminishes while Mira 
becomes a woman-hero. The witnessing critic in Mira is perpetu- 
ally checking and guarding her autonomy. 

While the role or the mask that the woman assigns to herself 
can be in conformity with her essential and authentic self, it may 
not go hand in hand with the role she has grown into through 
the traditionally determined socio-cultural orientation. It is the 
extraordinary sensitivity of the writer that accords him/her the 
vision to discern the validity of the mask worn by the woman or 
for that matter any character towards the fulfilment of her being; 
the artist is able to see how much of the mask is a mere pose ... 
has it been naturalised or thrown aside due to the initial discom- 
fiture of having unconventional looks? One needs to have a lot 

176/INDIAN literature ; 157 

of inner courage to go through this period without making com- 

It is inevitable that even for the earlier woman it was impor- 
tant to fulfil the need for self-assertion. For instance, on the domes- 
tic front, the posture of resilience and sacrifice began to be used 
as a strategy to wield power subtly. Indeed, resilience too is a 
mask. With the change in orientations, it may be the opposite: 
the outward demeanour may be that of aggression but the insides, 
habitually may seek a resilient posture. 

While looking at the stories which are woman-centred, the 
questions to be raised are: does the writer succeed in delving 
deep into the folds of the female consciousness? How far is the 
woman able to perceive her own reality or predicament? What 
are her points of strength? The pertinent question to be examined 
is whether the mask she wears has features that would permit 
the expression of what the woman has been repressing in herself 
all along. Let us look at what happens in a significant Urdu novel 
Ek Chader Maili Si by Rajender Singh Bedi. I choose this novel 
in particular, to focus on the convincing choices the writer can 
accord to a female character despite her conservative cultural 

In this novel the author selects a very typical convention 
from the Punjabi culture: that of a widow getting into a 'wedlock 
of protection' with her brother-in-law (husband's brother) at the 
death of her husband. Bedi could have very well creatively deli- 
neated the web of such relationship without trying to get into 
the female psyche which may revolt at such a convention. The 
psychological richness and beauty of the novel lies in the author's 
desire to explore the intricacies of the working of the heroine's 
mind who wears the mask of convention which is distinctly dif- 
ferent from her own real emotional state. She cannot mechani- 
cally yield to a man with whom she had evolved an altogether 
different relationship earlier. The author's perception of her situ- 
ation makes him accord an opportunity to her to become aware 
of her own complicated state, to be able to perceive her own 
individual Identity, She does not just dismiss or repress her emo- 
tional responses and takes the decision to operate from the deeper 
level of her consciousness, disowning the mask of convention. 


What may be implicit in the text may thus become explicit by 
attending to the gender-related cues. This requires just a reorien- 
tation which will yield another critical tool with which literary 
texts may be examined. The text itself would have inherently 
accommodated overtly or implicitiv a gender consciousness 
which needs to be decoded for a more comprehensive and com- 
plete understanding of the society and the world view encoded 
within the text. Even the fact of appropriation of the male dis- 
course by the female writer or character is bound to reflect the 
societal orientations of the age. 

When psychoanalytical perspectives and sociological in- 
sights cannot be presented directly due to the danger of over- 
simplification, literary devices like "fantasy" and "irony" are very 
useful. Not only do they help retain the ambivalence and com- 
plexity of the sexual identity of the character, but also, they help 
raise important questions regarding the quality of "reality" and 
"illusion" or "truth" and "lies" through which human existence 
is perceived. These devices become particularly relevant for the 
exploration of female identity which is loaded with innumerable 
cultural complexities. In other words what is then called for, is 
a decoding of the hidden connections between textuality and 

A word of caution however is required to be given to the 
radical feminist critics who tend to see man-woman distinctions 
as discriminations. The cry for equality should not be allowed 
to change into a demand for sameness. This is when appropriation 
of the male discourse gets wrongly Justified. Even in the constant 
revision of mythologies in literary texts it is essential to maintain 
the critical alertness for male-female distinctions. The paradigms 
of success and 'heroism', too, are constantly undergoing a 
change. The canonized code of 'heroism' has been questioned 
and deromanticized very effectively in modern literature. What 
requires a close critical scrutiny is the question as to how that 
relates to the identity of the woman in society. 

The fluidity of woman's identity is presented in the delinea- 
tion of her self as formulated externally by cultural heritage on 
the one hand, and on the other, through an internal process of 
redefinition and discovery. For the latter, the writer may choose 

178/iNDIAN literature : 157 

to use the metaphor of madness to explore the deeper psychic 
reality of women who are pushed into hysteria, madness and 
neurotic behaviour due to their inability to cope with the pressures 
of patriarchy. Madness may just be interpreted as a psychic rebell- 
ion to the status quo, a seeking of the fulfilment of the aspirations 
for her 'freedom' 

The subversion of the 'personal' and of the 'private' language 
in literature is traditionally upheld in laudatory terms. This 
approach conforms to a typically male suspicion of the 'subjec- 
tive', the 'personal' or the 'domestic' as against the cherished 
value of the objective. The exclusion of a wide range of human 
experience, that which is restrictedly women's, thus becomes 
inevitable. The fiterary critic then has to learn to interpret silences 
and absences as much, if not more, than actual presences and 
dialogues or descriptions within a text. 

For a decoding of gender in literary texts, a re-programming 
of the critical mind is imperative. Such a perspective is essential 
if literature is to decode life fully with all its complexities. 

Seminar on "Women's Studies and Patriarchy" held at Indian Institute of 
Advanced Study, Shimla in September 1992. D 



S ULAKSHA, the young heroine of Chandrakant Keni's Konkani 
story "Na Khant, Na Khed" (No Guilt, No Regret), who holds 
radical views on marriage, tells her father; "Daddy, the relation 
between husband and wife is their concern, why should society 
bother about it? As long as there is affection, they will stay together 
... Why should one get trapped in marriage, if there is no mutual 
trust?" True to her creed, she leaves Sunil after staying with him 
for a few days, to live with the married artist Shekhar. Her father 
is driven to expostulate with her: "You change your man as one 
changes sarees." 

Surely we have come a long, long way since the time when 
Sita and Savitri were supposed to represent ideal Indian woman- 
hood, when unquestioning allegiance to her husband was believ- 
ed to be the hallmark of a virtuous Indian woman, and when a 
woman's suffering for the sake of her husband or family was 
extolled as noble self-sacrifice. 

Whether we call Sulaksha a feminist depends on how we de- 
fine feminism. Broadly speaking, a feminist approach may simply 
mean a woman-centred approach, an approach which assumes 
the centrality of woman and seeks to project and interpret experi- 
ence from the viewpoint of a feminine consciousness and a femi- 
nine sensibility. As Patricia Meyer Spacks remarks, "there seems 
to be something that we might call a woman's point of view, ... an 
outlook sufficiently distinct to be recognizable through the cen- 
turies."’ Feminism assumes that women experience the world 

180/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 157 

differently from men and write out of their different perspective. 
But just as Professor Morse Peckham argues that there is not one 
romanticism but many romanticisms, it may well turn out that 
there is not one feminism but many feminisms. 

A feminist approach is, of course, by no means confined to 
literature but subsumes many areas of knowledge and experi- 
ence. In its application to literature, a feminist approach has usual- 
ly meant either, or both, of two things: one, a re-examination 
through creative literature of the role and status of woman in 
society and a new way of portraying woman in creative literature 
which does justice to her identity as an individual; two, a re-in- 
terpretation and revaluation of literary texts, old and new, from 
a woman-centred point of view. For convenience we may call 
the two types of literary feminism, creative feminism and critical 
feminism. Remarkably, whereas in American literature and in 
many European literatures feminism has expressed itself in both 
these modes, in Indian literature feminism has for the most part 
remained confined to creative literature, and has not led to a 
sustained and comprehensive re-interpretation of literary texts 
from a new critical feminist stance. 

Before taking up a study of the appearance and growth of 
feminism in modern Indian literature, two preliminary remarks 
must be made. In the first place, many modern Indian writers 
have continued to project and sustain traditional values and to 
extol old roles and models in their presentation of women. Thus 
Devanuru Mahadeva's Kannada novels Odalala and Kusumabale 
glorify motherhood through characters such as Sakavva and 
Akkamadevamma. Similarly, Tulsi Ram Sharma 'Kashyap' in his 
Nepali epic Aama (1 989) extols woman's capacity for love and 

In the second place, it must not be imagined that feminism 
emerged in Indian literature full-blown like Minerva from Jupiter's 
head. Rather, it has grown slowly and steadily, some of its aspects 
having been anticipated and adumbrated in earlier authors. Both 
Bankimchandra Chatterji and Rabindranath Tagore had depicted 
women who showed rare courage and strength in critical situa- 
tions and played a pivotal role in their sphere of operation. Sarat- 
chandra Chatterji, who created perhaps the most memorable 

R.K. gupta/181 

portraits of women in Indian literature, was himself something 
of a feminist by conviction, a§ were some of his heroines — Kiran- 
moyee in Charitraheen, for example, and more particularly, 
Kamal in Sesher Prashna who held radical views about the institu- 
tion of marriage. Sarat's combination of boundless sympathy and 
respect for women, great sensitivity, a delicate sensibility, and 
incurable romanticism led to depiction of women characters who 
show an all but superhuman magnanimity, forebearance, and 
self-effacement in dealing with the frailties and foibles of men — 
such, for example, as Annada and Rajiakshmi in Srikant. In Hindi 
Jainendra Kumar, who was something of an iconoclast in his 
portrayal of women, had shattered the stereotyped image of 
Indian women by creating bold, vigorous, and unconventional 
women characters in his novels such as Tyagapatra, Sunita, and 
Kalyani. If one might sense just a touch of condescension in these 
writers' presentation of women, even at its most idealized, one 
can fall back upon Urdu writers like Ismat Chugtai, and the now 
almost totally forgotten Rashid jahan who, as early as in the 
1930s, in her stories in the subsequently proscribed Angare 
(1931) and mAurat'O 937-) had dealt with the problems of women, 
especially of Muslim women, with daring unconventionality, and 
had shown how the young Muslim wife was forced to live in an 
environment which denuded her of all vestiges of dignity and 

Thus what may be called therefore shadowings and faint 
premonitions of feminism become visible in Indian literature as 
early as in the 1 920s and 1 930s. It is, however, perhaps only in 
the post-Independence period, and especially since the 1 960s, 
that the traditional literary interpretation of women's role and 
status in society began to be seriously questioned. In many West- 
ern literatures, especially in American literature, in the last three 
decades or so, the position of women in society has been sharply 
debated and re-examined. In.Indian literature also, although not 
to the same extent, a similar phenomenon has been in existence, 
of which the manifestations can be seen in the literary products 
of several languages. Ideals of womanhood firmly entrenched — 
often imposed by men and unconsciously internalized by wo- 

182/lNDlAN LITERATURE ; 157 

men — have lost their sanctity and are being critically examined 
and assessed. 

Several complex and interactive factors have brought about 
the changed perception of the role of women in society. With 
the lifting of restrictions on their education, women have become 
more conscious of their rights and privileges, and able and willing 
to fight for them. Articulate and influential theoreticians of 
feminism such as Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 1949), 
Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1 963), Kate Millet (Sexual 
Politics, 1970), Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (The Mad- 
woman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth 
Century Literary Imagination, 1979), and Elaine Showalter (ed.. 
The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and 
Theory, 1985) have eloquently argued the cause of women and 
shown how women have been consistently short-changed and 
exploited in a society dominated by men. These writers had a 
wide readership and following, and a more or less global impact. 
With the opening up of various kinds of professional opportunities 
to them, women have shown by the quality of their performance 
and achievement that the sedulously nurtured myth about their 
incapacity for certain types of work is just that — a myth, without 
any substance in it. These and other such factors have led to the 
growth of a feminist perspective in life and society, with obvious 
repercussions on literature, which seeks to portray and interpret 


Oppression and exploitation of women in what is now often 
called a patriarchal society has been an ever-present theme in 
Indian literature. The theme is a recurrent one in Prem Chand 
and Saratchandra Chatterjl, although in Saratchandra it is often 
suffused in a romantic glow which often blunts its sharp edge. 
But whereas earlier writers had often glorified women's suffering, 
Indian writers in the last two or three decades have on the whole 
presented it unpalliatively, with much greater realism, and with- 
out giving it the halo of noble self-sacrifice. Also, modern Indian 
writers tend to depict oppression of women with greater self-con- 

R.K. gupta/1 83 

sciousness, a deeper sense of involvement, and not infrequently 
even a sense of outrage. The theme takes on sharpness and urgen- 
cy in such Hindi plays as Bhisham Sahni's Madhavi and Shankar 
Shesh's Komal Gandhar, while Vijay Tendulkar's Marathi plays 
Sakharam Binder (^97^ ; English version, 1973; the protagonist 
is given to treating women as disposable commodities) and 
Silence! The Court is in Session (1967; English version, 1978) 
searchingly analyze woman's plight in a male-dominated society. 
The theme is developed with great diversity of situations and 
characters in Nayantara Sahgal's Rich Like E/swhich shows Indian 
women suffer interminably at the hands of men. While Mona is 
discarded by her husband Ram when he brings home an English 
girl, Rose,.as his second wife, the central character Sonali Ranade, 
a middle-aged, single IAS officer, learns how her great-grand- 
mother was forced by her relatives to commit sati after her hus- 
band's death. 

Mrinal Pande's story "Girls” (Hindi) brings out the discrimi- 
nation practised by women themselves in the upbringing of girls 
and boys from an early stage. In Shashi Deshpande's justly 
acclaimed English novel That Long Silence 988), matric-failed 
Dilip is given a favoured position over his much more talented 
sister Kusum. Manorama Mathai's The Mamage oM/ey (English, 
1 988) shows the unenviable fate of even well-educated Christian 
women of Kerala, and the writer Kamala Das recalls how even 
in her matriarchal society a man could force his niece to divorce 
her husband, whom she loved and wanted and to marry another 
man. 2 By recreating the story of a village girl, Chellammal, in his 
poem "Temple" (English, 1989), Jayanta Mahapatra poignantly 
dramatizes the tragedy of Indian women without any attempt at 
palliation or romanticization. Yadavendra Sharma 'Chandra' in 
his collection of eighteen stories in Rajasthani, Jamaro (1 987), 
mainly depicts the pitiable situation of women. Kundanika Kapa- 
dia's Gujarati novel Sat Paglan Akashman (1 985), a landmark in 
Gujarati literature, graphically, and somewhat polemically nar- 
rates the fate of women wronged by men. 

A particularly sensitive and insightful portrayal of the plight 
of village women is Binapani Mohanty's collection of twelve 
stories, Pata De/(Oriya, 1987). Most of the stories show women 

184/lNDlAN LITERATURE : 157 

suffering passively: in "Chitrita Andhara/' for example, a woman 
deserted by her husband and with three grown-up daughters poi- 
sons the girls and ends her own life when she finds herself unable 
to cope with the perfidy of a family friend. In her first novel, 
Kunti Kuntala Sakuntala (1989), however, the writer, whose 
declared aim is to uphold "femininity" and "woman-conscious- 
ness", shows her young heroine not suffering passively in a male- 
dominated society but fighting back and asserting her own iden- 
tity. Similarly, Sneha Devi's collection of stories Sneha Devir 
Ekunki Galpa (Assamese, 1988) is remarkable for its rich and 
sensitive presentation of images of women's life. As Bhaben Barua 
remarks, at the heart of each of her stories "there is the voice of 
a woman. The significance of her contribution to Assamese fiction 
partly lies in the expression of this sensibility ... Various aspects 
of feminine sensibility have ... been presented in her stories with 
remarkable authenticity. "3 

In Shashi Deshpande's That Long Silence the housewife and 
failed writer Jaya narrates the story of her life, vividly bringing 
out in the process how women are oppressed by family traditions: 
marriage in India often involves becoming inextricably enmeshed 
in an intricate network of family values and customs. The situation 
of women is highlighted through such characters as Kusum, who 
commits suicide a day before her husband is supposed to take 
her back; Jeeja, the domestic, who stoically puts up with a drun- 
kard husband; Mohan's sister Vimala; and Mohan's motherwho, 
after a life of enduring the caprices of her overbearing and auto- 
cratic husband, finally dies of an abortion. At times one feels that 
Shashi Deshpande overdoes the theme of women suffering, so 
that the novel is in some danger of turning into a sociological 
tract. However, in a telling example of fact reinforcing fiction, 
Anand Yadav's autobiographical narration in Marathi, Zombi 
(1989), presents a similar relationship between Anand's com- 
pliant mother and domineering father. 


A major strength of Shashi Deshpande's That Long Silence 
is its sensitive and realistic dramatization of the married life of 

R.K. cupta/185 

the narrator Jaya and her husband Mohan. The searching critical 
examination to which the institution of marriage has been sub- 
jected in recent years may well be an offshoot of the growth of a 
feminist outlook. Marital relationships, and the oppression that 
is often inherent to them, have been a subject of great concern for 
modern Indian writers, both men and women, although it is wo- 
men writers who have felt most strongly and passionately about 
it for understandable reasons. Writers such as Shivani, Amrita 
Pritam, Binapani Mohanty, and Sneha Devi have effectively and 
sensitively brought out the frequently oppressive nature, from a 
woman's point of view, of such relationships, and the legitimiza- 
tion of women's exploitations which the supposed sanctity of 
the institution of marriage sometimes involves. In The Other 
Woman and Other Stories (English, 1981) Dina Mehta presents 
the stresses and strains of married life, from a woman's (and 
occassionally emancipated) point of view, with great success. 
Her women characters not only boldly question male values but 
also sometimes totally reject male hegemony. In her fine story, 
"Absolution," the narrator, ironically named Sita, is a conven- 
tional middle-class housewife until she retaliates against her hus- 
band Ram's persistent infidelity by paying him back in his own 
coin. Her husband, who was in the habit of having flowers left 
for his wife in the lacquered bowl on the breakfast table after his 
acts of infidelity, is totally discomfited when he finds, in an ironic 
reversal of roles, "a glorious bouquet of red carnations" left on 
the breakfast table for him by his wife. 

A major factor that inhibits women's creative expression has 
been lack of privacy, of sheer physical space to reflect and work 
in. As far back as in 1 929, Virginia Woolf has attributed woman's 
lack of creativity largely to her not having a room of her own. 
Indian women writers have faced a similar problem. Nayantara 
Sahgal recalls that until she wrote Rich Like Us in the United 
States on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, she never had a room 
of her own where she could write undisturbed: "I've always felt 
that the armies of the world marched through my room as I wrote 
and that Paradise must be a place where there are no interrup- 

Other factors which have tended to hamper or stifle women's 

186/INDIAN literature ; 157 

creativity include the strong social and family pressure to hold 
all creative activity in subservience to their roles as home-makers. 
Another factor has been a general lack of encouragement in the 
environment, and social expectations regarding themes women 
should write on. Kamala Das remarks: “Till recent times, women 
lacked the social and intellectual authority to write seriously. 
There were certain prescribed norms for a woman's writing." 
She adds: "The prescribed themes for women's writings were 
God and domestic bliss. Nothing else. The body, the physicality, 
was to be ignored."^ 

The situation is much changed now, and it is often possible 
for women to combine family responsibilities with professional 
and creative work. This is, of course, true mainly of urban life — in 
villages one still does not see much sign of a change — and the 
motive and compulsion behind it are often economic. With the 
rising cost of living in the cities, it is often necessary for women 
to work and earn in order to enable the family to sustain their stan- 
dard of living. This puts a dual responsibility on women, which 
in turn involves its own problems and stresses, and is a fruitful 
and promising theme for literary treatment, which, however, has 
not been dealt within modern Indian literature in sufficient depth 
and detail. In any case, women today have greater opportunities 
for creative expression and intellectual fulfilment than before, a 
fact which is reflected in modern Indian literature in the portrayal 
of women characters, and also in the enhanced contribution of 
women writers to literary production. 

What Kamala Das calls "the body, the physicality' is no 
longer necessary to ignore, and the range of themes on which 
women now can — and do — ^write is virtually unlimited. Love and 
sex are now treated with greater candour, even by women writ- 
ers. Ismat Chughtai, for example, scandalized orthodox readers 
by the openness with which she dealt with such matters in her 
stories, and Anita Mehta writes about a woman's experience of 
the physical side of love with considerable explicitness in such 
stories as "Letters/4, 5 and 6" {London Magazine, December 
1984/ January 1985). 

R.K. gupta/1 87 


A truly heartening feature of portrayal of women in modern 
Indian literature is that increasingly women are shown, not pas- 
sively putting up with oppression and injustice, but actively resist- 
ing them with courage and determination, and often coming out 
victorious in the end. Thus while some writers may persist in 
showing women suffering passively and accepting their tradi- 
tional roles in society, it is more often the case that women are 
presented as asserting themselves in various ways. In Mridula 
Garg's Hindi novel Main aurMain the central character Madhavi 
Choudhary, an affluent housewife with two children whose liter- 
ary aspirations and bourgeois feelings of guilt render her vulner- 
able to the machinations of a brilliant but vicious writer Kaushal 
Kumar, finally finds the strength to assert herself and to set herself 
free from her emotional enslavement. Mridula Garg's Ek aur 
Ajnabi and Ramesh Bakshi's Devayani ka Kahna hai present 
defiantly unconventional women who would be called "emanci- 
pated" today. Recent Tamil fiction has dealt pervasively with the 
theme of emancipation of women from all kinds of oppression, 
the tone ranging all the way from muted to strident from placid 
to doctrinaire. Contemporary Telugu women poets such as Jaya 
Prabha, Vimla, and K. Nirmala attack male egoism and seek a 
respected place for women in various spheres of life. In Urdu, 
Shrawan Kumar Varma's four stories in his collection Dil Darya 
(1986) show women who refuse to allow their identity to be 
submerged in subservience to man-made rules and conventions. 
In Konkani, Jayanti Naik in, her stories in Carjan (1 989) presents 
village women fighting male authoritarianism with considerable 
firmness and success. While in a story like "The Wan Moon," 
Gangadhar Gadgif perceptively presents the suffering and humili- 
ation of a traditional Hindu wife, in "The Woman" the main 
character is a strong-willed woman committed to asserting and 
defending "the core of her womanhood" (Marathi, translated 
into English as The Woman and Other Stories, 1990). In Sindhi, 
Soni Mulchandani depicts women who fight against injustice with 
persistent courage in her 1 989 collection aptly titled Shakti, while 
Rita Shahani's novel Chanda Khan Sija Taeen (From the Moon 

188/INDIAN literature : 157 

to .the Sun) shows the protagonist Seema gradually shedding her 
dependence on external props and becoming self-reliant, thus 
ceasing to be the moon which reflects the light of the sun and 
herself becoming the sun. Manjit Tiwana's long poem Savitri 
(Punjabi, 1 989) radically reinterprets the old myth from a feminist 
viewpoint. Savitri continues to be the same faithful wife but she 
thinks it is no longer possible to find Satyavan in today's society. 
Meera, the young heroine of jayashree Chatterjee's novel One 
Step Ahead (English, 1 985), concludes; as her mother had done 
earlier, that "love is not enough." Not content with her role as 
a housevvife, she seeks to express her creative energy through 
copywriting, even if it may involve sacrificing her family life. 


Feminism as expressed in modern Indian literature suffers 
from some limitations. Too often it has led to the portrayal of pas- 
sive, unrelieved suffering of women, their stark misery. For exam- 
ple, in Shashi Deshpande's That Long Silence, the spectacle of 
women suffering without resistance or struggle becomes unbear- 
ably oppressive. The fact is that passive suffering, no matter how 
true to life, does not go a very long way as a theme in narrative 
and dramatic literature. 

Moreover, feminism in modern Indian literature has often 
tended to be too descriptive and not sufficiently critical. While 
it has effectively played with the surface, it has not adequately 
provided insight into the deep social and psychological factors 
which produce the environment in which exploitation of women 
becomes possible. Sometimes man is blamed too easily as the 
ubiquitous villain to whom can be traced back all the suffering 
and oppression of women, while women's role in the oppression 
of other women is not sufficiently highlighted, except through 
the cruel mother-in-law syndrome, as in Binapani Mohanty's 
story "Alikhita Frusta" (Oriya). Arguably, women themselves 
have been great oppressors of women. To attribute this to the 
patriarchal system is, 1 think, too deterministic and undercuts the 
individual's autonomy and freedom of action. 

Such lack of criticism can easily lead to exaggeration, melod- 

R.K. gupta/189 

rama, sensationalism, self-pity, and sentimentality. But as Krishna 
Kripalani remarks; "wails of anguish or thunder of curses or 
growls of anger do not by themselves turn into great literature."^ 
It can also lead to reductive, unidimensional approaches towards 
reality. In India, however, militant, programmatic feminism of 
the kind common in the West has, where it has at all appeared, 
tended to be confined to academics and socialites, its literary 
manifestations having been minimal. Not having graduated to 
the militancy of the West, literary feminism in India has also 
largely escaped the excesses .of the Western model — its reduc- 
tionism and its at times simplistic view of reality which turn it 
into what one might call "vulgar" feminism, analogous to what 
are called "vulgar" Marxism and "vulgar" Freudianism. 

Finally, as has already been suggested, literary feminism in 
India has been deficient in the area of criticism and interpretation. 
Readings of literary texts, old and new, from a feminist standpoint 
have been rather few in India. Thus the Indian literary tradition 
has not been subjected to a drastic revision designed to do justice 
to feminist perspectives, so that an extremely significant segment 
of a feminist approach to literature has remained more or less 
unexplored. Criticism in India has been much more conservative 
and cautious than creative literature, probably because criticism 
has largely remained the domain of academics. 

For all these limitations, feminism remains one of the most 
significant developments in modern Indian literature. It has 
brought about an insistent, searching exploration of the role and 
status of women in society, and thus it may justifiably be called 
an exciting and innovative approach that has enriched and trans- 
formed modern Indian literature in many ways. 


1. The Female Imagination (New York, 1975), pp. 4-5. 

2. "My Instinct, My Guru," Indian Literature (Sept. -Oct. 1990), p. 155. 

3. "Sensitive and Reflective," Indian Literature (Nov.-Dee. 1991), pp. 15-16. 

4. Interviewed by Nergis Dalai, "A truly wonderful moment ...." 

The Hindustan Times Sunday Magazine (January 11,1 987). 

5. "My Instinct, My Guru,” p. 156. 

6. Modern Indian Literature : A Panoramic C//mpse (Nirmala Sadanand, 1968) 

p. 109. □ 




Inner Spaces: New Writing by Women from Kerala, edited by K.M. George, 
Jancy james, Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan and Raj Kamini Mahadevan, New Delhi: 
Kali for Women, 1993, Rs. 70. 

K ali for Women's new anthology of writing by women from 
Kerala constitutes a challenge to the canon of writing in India 
in two basic respects. First, it Is a departure from the practice of 
anthology-making in vogue in our liberal humanist literary tradi- 
tion, in which representative pieces by women are appended as 
coda, so to say, to the body of an anthology consisting in the main 
of writing by men. Secondly, by choosing to translate creative 
writing from a region situated in the geographical and cultural 
periphery of the country, the publishers have effected a refocus- 
ing of attention away from the metropolitan centres of the land 
to its less privileged margins. Both moves, obviously, are inter- 
related and both, to be sure, are becoming increasingly popular 
in literary cultural circles nowadays. 

The use of gender as an organizing category of experience, 
though yet to gain acceptance as a full-fledged Intellectual activity 
in India, has in the West over the past two to three decades be- 
come a well-entrenched academic discipline with its own reper- 
toire of reading strategies and analytical tools. The term "acade- 
mic" might perhaps be a bit misleading in this context, because 
in all countries academic interest in the gender question has gone 
hand in hand with an upsurge of feminist activism outside the 
academy. Even in universities, feminist issues loom large not in 
the programmes of departments offering conventional academic 

p.p. raveendran/191 

courses, but in those of departments that consciously try to break 
loose from conventions. 

Though, as is to be expected, there are several approaches 
to the problem, feminists of all hues agree in principle with the 
assertion of Simone de Beauvoir, one of the earliest to theorise 
on the gender question, that the history of humanity is a history 
of systematic attempts to silence the female. One of the first femi- 
nist projects has therefore been to ransack written history and 
render these silences articulate in order to retrieve a lost tradition. 
"The Lost Tradition" indeed is the title of one of the many 
self-consciously feminist volumes that have accompanied the 
recent boom of gender-related publications in the West.’ Other 
Anglo-American works like Louise Bernikow's edition of the 
English and American women poets of the last four centuries 
entitled The World Split Open (New York, 1974), and Dexter 
Fisher's The Third Woman: Minority Women Writers of the 
United States (Boston, 1 980) also consciously seek to construct 
an alternative tradition of women's writing. Susie Tharu and K. 
Lalita's two-volume project entitled Women Writing in India: 
600 B.C. to the Present (New York, 1991) is an attempt to bring 
together the relevant Indian texts scattered in rnore than a dozen 
languages spoken across the country. Malayalam has attempted 
to keep pace with the trend with such works as M. Rajiv Kumar's 
Antharjanam Muthal Ashita Vare (From Antharjanam to Ashita, 
1984), K. Satchidanandan's Muppathu Indian Kavayithrikal 
(Thirty Women Poets from India, 1991) and Desamangalam 
Ramakrishnan's Sthreeloka Kavitha (Women's World Poetry, 
1993). While these Malayalam works, even as they attempt to 
construct a female tradition of literary enterprise, might bring many 
discredited and disregarded texts to the notice of the discerning 
Malayalee reader. Inner Spaces makes a selection of Malayalam 
short stories available to the English-speaking readership. 

Inner Spaces contains fifteen short stories written from the 
1 930s to the present. Most of the authors included are well known 
in Kerala, some like Lalithambika Antharjanam, Kamala Das and 
P. Vatsala have been accorded institutional honours more than 
once, a few like Sarah Joseph, Manasi and Ashita are widely ac- 
claimed by today's younger readers, and many others enjoy 

192/INOIAN literature : 157 

modest to considerable fame among sections of the reading 
public. Only K. Saraswathi Amma and, to a certain extent, Raja- 
lakshmy seem to be instances of recovery of an authentic female 
voice that was lost in the overpowering din of a patriarchal dis- 
course. There are at least a couple of stories by contemporary 
writers that do not merit inclusion in an anthology of this kind, 
and'there is at least one young writer of supreme talent — Cracy, 
the author of Padiyirangippoya Parvad — ^who has been unjustly 
excluded from it. The result, then, is a replication, barring a few 
minor alterations here and there, of the canon of writing that has 
patronizingly been handed down by the male literary establish- 
ment. [Interestingly, many of the authors represented here have 
made their appearance in the massive anthology Nooru Varsham, 
Nooru Katha (A Hundred Years, a Hundred Stories, 1991) pub- 
lished by Kerala's leading commercial publisher, the D.C. Books, 
to mark the centenary of the short story ins Malayalam.J This 
perhaps points to the general paucity of original research on 
women's writing from pre-modern Kerala, though the editors 
cannot obviously be held responsible for this. The editors, how- 
ever, cannot escape blame for their unduly "literary" bias, that 
has considerably restricted the scope of selection. They seem to 
have forgotten fora moment that the feminist project also involves 
a critique of received assumptions concerning literature. As K.M. 
George's foreward to the book indicates, there is a rich variety 
of what he calls "discursive" writing by women available for the 
period before the 1 930s. It does not seem to be the case that it 
was the editors' bias for the "new" in the subtitle that prevented 
them from considering a sampling of this for Inclusion in the an- 
thology. The reason, on the other hand, seems to be the absence 
in these pieces of "the temper and texture" of creative literature 
(p.xvii). Leaving aside the question of the exact composition of 
this "temper" and "texture", one would have wished to see 
specimens of earlier discursive writing in an edition that is prima- 
rily a collection of writing by women from Kerala. 

The anthology, nevertheless, is significant in many other 
ways. The book provides an occasion for readers who are not 
familiar with the ethos of Kerala to get to know its cultural diver- 
sity. There is indeed a feminist dimension to most of the stories 

p.p. raveendran/1 93 

included. Thematically the stories range from Lalithambika 
Antharjanam's and K. Saraswathi Amma's pieces which provide 
social criticism in the tradition of- classic realistic writing to Man- 
asi's and Sarah Joseph's writings which explore the complex 
nature of the relation between the self and the other. K.B. Sree- 
devi's "The Stone Woman" is a modern reinterpretation of an 
ancient myth, while M.D. Ratnamma's "The Cow" is a hilarious 
comedy that has a point to make which it makes with extreme 
force. The stories by Rajalakshmy ("In the Temple"), Ashita ("In- 
complete Stops"), Kamala Das ("The Game of Chess"), P. Vatsala 
("Chamundi's Pit") and Nalini Bakel ("The Third Night") all 
explore the inner spaces of woman's life